This is a guest post by Michael Yonan, series editor of ‘The Histories of Material Culture and Collecting 1700–1950’
The annual conference of the American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies just took place in San Antonio, Texas, from 21–24 March 2012. This year’s conference was held at a Hyatt conference hotel on the Riverwalk, San Antonio’s well-known district of restaurants and clubs, and a short walk away from the Alamo. This building, now a popular tourist attraction, is the remnant of a former Spanish mission and the site of a major battle in the 1836 Texas Revolution, a war that created the independent Republic of Texas. Texans to this day take pride in their state’s former status as an independent country.
The conference continued ASECS’s history of meeting regularly in the southwestern US; prior sites include Tucson, Las Vegas, and in 2010 Albuquerque. When not busy in sessions, the conference attendees enjoyed spectacularly beautiful, sunny weather, which made for a dramatic change from last year’s conference in mountainous and brisk Vancouver, British Columbia!
This year saw an unusual congregation of panels devoted to concerns directly relevant to the series I edit for Ashgate, The Histories of Material Culture and Collecting 1700–1950. This suggests once again that there is a healthy interest in the social lives of objects and on collecting among scholars working in multiple disciplines.
Ashgate author Denise Amy Baxter, University of North Texas, chaired a panel titled “Life and Luxury: Material Culture and Decorative Arts,” which featured presentations on clocks, desks, rococo prints, and embroidered portraits.
Sabrina Ferri, University of Notre Dame, chaired a similar panel that focused on a tighter geographical area: “The Cultural Life of Things: Material Culture in the Long Italian Eighteenth Century.”
Heidi Strobel, University of Evansville, and Ashgate author Jennifer Germann, Ithaca College, co-chaired another panel that viewed eighteenth-century objects through the lens of gender, dubbed “Gendered Objects in the Long Eighteenth Century.”
Finally, I organized a roundtable on “Disciplinary Approaches to Eighteenth-Century Material Culture.” The speakers were Baxter, Germann, musicologist Karen Hiles, and literary scholars Barbara M. Benedict and Chloe Wigston Smith. We enjoyed a lively discussion about how our respective disciplines handle (or neglect!) the study of objects, be they musical instruments, works of art, books, literary descriptions, or everyday things.
These panels solidified my impression that material culture studies, broadly understood, is a thriving area in contemporary eighteenth-century scholarship.