A few words about Ashgate’s new series The Histories of Material Culture and Collecting, 1700–1950

A few words about Ashgate’s new series The Histories of Material Culture and Collecting, 1700–1950  from series editor Michael Yonan, PhD, Associate Professor of Eighteenth- and Nineteenth-Century Art at the University of Missouri-Columbia, USA …

I am delighted to be editing the series “The Histories of Material Culture and Collecting, 1700–1950” for Ashgate Publishing.  Some readers might find the pairing in the series’ title rather surprising.  Material culture, while defined variously in different academic disciplines, typically refers to everyday objects, to commonplace things of practical value.  Collecting, in contrast, seems best reserved for special objects, for luxury goods possessing exceptional significance, for things by definition rare, special, or exalted.  I linked material culture and collecting consciously, however, to suggest that the two categories profitably be brought together, and thereby to promote the growth of transdisciplinary “object studies” drawing upon art history, museum studies, aesthetics, anthropology, sociology, and history.  “The Histories of Material Culture and Collecting” seeks scholarship that examines the myriad ways that people related to objects in the early modern era, while emphasizing the primacy of objects’ material status, be they everyday dinnerware or oil paintings by Rembrandt. 

The series’ chronological span likewise was a deliberate choice.  Material culture and collecting studies have gravitated toward specific historical eras, often settling in either the distantly ancient or in the globalized contemporary worlds.  To my mind, there are special insights to be gained from examining objects’ histories in the two hundred and fifty years between 1700 and 1950.  It is in these centuries that new collections of objects were formed to meet the needs of modern institutions and that industrialized mass-produced objects first vied with unique objects produced through traditional craft.  In general it was during this era that modern consumerist cultures first took shape.  Furthermore, “The Histories of Material Culture and Collecting” offers a parallel to the well-studied history of modern visuality by seeking to advance a history of modern materiality.  My hope is that the series will draw attention to the ways in which our contemporary material world was prefigured or predicted in the not too distant past. 


For information on submitting a proposal for the series, please contact Meredith Norwich, Commissioning Editor for Visual Studies, at mnorwich@ashgate.com

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