The role played by the material world in the lives of people in the past has become more central to historical understanding, through examining how historical actors used objects and built environments to express meaning.

Using the material world as source and an analytical approach, our historians have developed new lenses through which to examine historical processes. Historians at Birmingham sit at the cutting edge of this field with world-leading publications in medieval, early modern and modern history, while shaping research handbooks, study guides and articles on methods and approaches in material history. Our historians of material culture unearth activities and practices in religious and domestic sites, streets and workplaces to illuminate the lives of those distant from traditional sources of power. Interdisciplinary explorations are important, with scholars weaving material culture analysis into perspectives from visual culture, gender studies, literary studies, archaeology, and anthropology. We continue to look for ways to analyse the material world, and are making connections with the theoretical frameworks offered by the history of emotions, musicology and sensory history.

 Through such research, our researchers directly engage with public heritage organisations and have built long-term collaborations with Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, Birmingham Museum Trust, The National Trust, Museum for the Order of St John and Weald & Downland Living Museum to cultivate new research questions, extend knowledge of collections, and create innovative means of interpretation.


Staff especially engaged with this research theme

Dr Chris Callow: researches the history and archaeology of early medieval western Europe, the Vikings and medieval Iceland and Scandinavia.

Dr Nathan Cardon; historian of the social, cultural, and transnational histories of the U.S. South, mobility, U.S. empire, and race. Researching the impact of the bicycle on the meanings of mobility for Americans, 1885-1939. 

Dr Tara Hamling; historian of social and cultural history of early modern England, with particular focus on visual and material culture, lived religion and domestic life.

Professor Karen Harvey; British historian working on the long eighteenth century, with particular interests in gender, the body, material culture and public history.

Dr William Purkis; historian of medieval religious cultures (c.1000–c.1300), with particular interests in crusading, pilgrimage, monasticism and material culture.

Dr Kate Smith; historian of eighteenth-century Britain and empire, with a particular interest in material cultures, production, consumption, skill, the senses and the emotions.

Dr Katharine Sykes; historian of the early and central middle ages, with particular interests in gender and sexuality, religious communities, and families.

Dr Zoë Thomas; historian of the 19th and 20th centuries with particular specialisms in the history of work, artistic culture, and women’s lives.


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