Conference | The Lives of Objects

Posted in conferences (to attend) by Editor on August 31, 2013

From the conference website:

The Lives of Objects
Wolfson College, Oxford, 20–22 September 2013

1690s Cabinet of Curiosities_1The relationship between life-writing and objects marks a growing trend in biographical studies. In the first major international conference on the subject, the Oxford Centre for Life-Writing (OCLW) will bring together scholars and curators at the forefront of research in this dynamic area. The conference’s premise is that objects can have lives of their own. Object biographies raise important methodological issues relating to life-writing, and interrogate the fundamental concept of ‘life’. Object biographies also reveal the importance of life-writing to curatorship: the conference will foreground research questions relating to museum management.

The application of life-writing to objects lies at the heart of many recently published biographies, memoirs and histories, including Neil MacGregor’s A History of the World in 100 Objects (2010), Edmund De Waal’s The Hare with Amber Eyes: A Hidden Inheritance (2010), Steven Connor’s Paraphernalia: The Curious Lives of Magical Things (2011), Mark Kurlansky’s Salt: A World History (2003) and Lorraine Daston’s Biographies of Scientific Objects (2000). Biographies of objects raise important methodological issues pertinent to life-writing, regarding narrative, structure and chronology; the representation of change and improvement; and the influence of objects in human lives, communities and material history. The study of ‘object biographies’ continues to generate fruitful areas of academic research, including Bill Brown’s work on ‘thing theory’ (2001); Chris Gosden and Yvonne Marshall’s 1999 study of ‘the cultural biography of objects’ (in relation to archaeology); and explorations of value and exchange of objects in cultural and material history, such as the essays included in Arjun Appadurai’s edited volume The Social Life of Things: Commodities in Cultural Perspective (1986). OCLW’s Conference on The Lives of Objects will bring together scholars and curators at the forefront of research into particular aspects of the theme, and will provide an environment in which fruitful interdisciplinary conversations will occur. Over the three-day event, delegates will enjoy:

• the History Faculty Plenary Lecture by Neil Macgregor (director of the British Museum and author of History of the World in 100 Objects); the English Faculty Plenary Lecture by Jenny Uglow (author of The Lunar Men and The Pinecone); and the John Fell Plenary Lecture by Edmund De Waal (author of The Hare with Amber Eyes: A Hidden Inheritance)

over fifty 20-minute papers from a wide range of backgrounds. Papers will offer biographical accounts of particular objects (including, but not limited to, portraits, sculpture, scientific instruments, archaeological finds, domestic artefacts and items of clothing); papers reflecting on the methodology of object biographies or outline existent projects concerned with objects’ lives; papers considering the influence of life-writing on material history and/or archaeology; papers exploring the relationship between curating and auto/biography; the history of the book; the history of museums; and further facets of the conference theme

• an informal workshop, in which delegates will present and discuss the lives and meanings of individual objects

• tours of the Ashmolean Museum, the Pitt-Rivers Museum and the Museum of the History of Science, Oxford, with talks by keepers and museum-directors about objects from the museum’s collections

• special conference sessions on ‘The Letter as a Material Object’ by Professor Hugh Haughton (University of York) and ‘The Private (and Public) Life of an Opera Aria’ by Professor Michael Burden (University of Oxford)

• opportunities to socialise with scholars working on this area during the conference, including at conference meals, drinks receptions, a gala conference dinner and other social events

The complete programme is available for download as a PDF file.