The Centre for Material Cultures and Materialities

Established in 2022, the Centre for Material Cultures and Materialities (CMCM) acts as a hub for UoB staff and students interested in the material world.

Situated in Birmingham, a city which has a long history of making and material knowledge, CMCM champions the importance of better understanding our complex relationships to the material world. Our work explores how people navigate and exploit the material world to sustain and express meanings, power structures, and social relationships across space and time. Situated in the College of Arts and Law, CMCM works with staff and students across the University of Birmingham and reaches out to curators, archivists, practitioners, and makers elsewhere.

It works closely with the object and art collections across campus, and particularly with those in the College of Arts and Law, such as  the Danford Collection, the Classics, Ancient History and Archaeology Museum, the Eton Myers Collection and The Barber Institute of Fine Arts.

Objectives

In the short-term, the Centre seeks to:

  • Create an intellectual community for UoB colleagues who work on material cultures and materialities
  • Further develop awareness of the importance of object collections within the College of Arts and Law at UoB and what they offer in terms of research and teaching
  • Foster international networks through partnering with other centres, such as the Center for Design and Material Culture at the University of Wisconsin-Madison

In the long term, the Centre seeks to:

  • Become a leading destination for the study of contemporary and historical material cultures in the UK
  • Create and deliver interdisciplinary modules, that allow students to benefit from expertise across CAL
  • Develop funding bids and original publication projects with inter-disciplinarity at their centre by highlighting and facilitating interconnections which foster methodological innovation
  • Build partnerships and networks with national and international external partners
  • Foster new and existing links with regional exhibition spaces, collections, and societies to further the interpretation of objects and spaces, develop practice and create pathways to impact in diverse communities

Our researchers

Dr Nathan Cardon

Dr Nathan Cardon

Associate Professor in United States History
Co-Director of the Centre for the Study of North America

My primary research interests are in the social, cultural, and transnational histories of the U.S. South, mobility, U.S. empire, and race.

Professor Henry Chapman

Professor Henry Chapman

Professor of Archaeology

Henry’s research interests centre on the later prehistoric period, and particularly the relationships between human activity and environmental change within past landscapes and focusing on wetland sites. He specialises in the use of digital technologies to enable the modelling and analysis of the wide range of information required for such study to engage with past sites and landscapes.

Thi ...

Dr Tara Hamling

Dr Tara Hamling

Reader in Early Modern Studies

I work on the social and cultural history of Britain in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries (the Tudor and Stuart periods). I am interested in how the profound changes to religion and society over the course of this period played out in domestic life and practices of belief, with particular focus on the role of visual and material culture (images, objects, built environment) in shaping ...

Professor Karen Harvey

Professor Karen Harvey

Professorial Fellow and Professor of Cultural History

My teaching focusses on the social and cultural aspects of eighteenth-century Britain. I'm particularly interested in how men and women experienced their lives in the context of wider understandings of power, gender and the body. 

Dr Anna Lavis

Dr Anna Lavis

Associate Professor in Medical Anthropology
Honorary Senior Lecturer, Australian National University, Canberra

Anna Lavis is an Associate Professor in Medical Anthropology in the Social Studies in Medicine (SSiM) Team at the Institute of Applied Health Research. 

Her research focuses on developing approaches and solutions to the key 21st century challenge of mental ill-health. Collaborating across academic, policy and clinical interfaces, Anna has led qualitative and mixed-method studies funded by ...

Dr Elizabeth L'Estrange

Dr Elizabeth L'Estrange

Senior Lecturer in History of Art
Head of Department of Art History, Curating and Visual Studies

My teaching and research focuses on the art and culture of the late medieval and early modern period, especially illuminated manuscripts and book culture, and French and Burgundian court art. Within these areas, I work specifically on women as subjects and consumers of visual cultures, text-image relations, and the querelle des femmes. My research addresses, for instance, questions of maternity, ...

Dr Maeve McHugh

Dr Maeve McHugh

Lecturer in Classical Archaeology

I am an archaeologist with expertise in the Greek Archaic to Classical periods. I work with historical and archaeological data to reconstruct the lives of rural non-elite individuals and communities in the Greek world to learn more about the interrelationships between physical, social, and cultural landscapes.

Professor Rebecca N Mitchell

Professor Rebecca N Mitchell

Professor in Victorian Literature and Culture

My scholarship focuses on Victorian literature and culture broadly defined, and I’m especially intrigued by the study and depiction of the creative process, the self/other relationship, and the textual/visual interface; these interests also drive my work in textual editing. I teach across the long nineteenth century.

Dr Kate Nichols

Dr Kate Nichols

Birmingham Fellow

I am an art historian of Britain and the British Empire between c.1815-1920.

Dr Leire Olabarria

Dr Leire Olabarria

Lecturer in Egyptology

I am a Lecturer in Egyptology with an interest in the application of social and cultural anthropology to the study of ancient Egypt. My work focuses on kinship and marriage in the Middle Kingdom and on the social construction of monumental spaces. I am also a field archaeologist and have been working at the site of Dayr el-Barsha in Middle Egypt since 2012.

Dr William Purkis

Dr William Purkis

Reader in Medieval History
Head of School of History and Cultures

I am a historian of medieval religious cultures (c.1000–c.1300), with particular interests in crusading, pilgrimage and monasticism.

Dr Daniel Reynolds

Dr Daniel Reynolds

Senior Lecturer in Byzantine History

Daniel Reynolds is Senior Lecturer in Byzantine History with research interests in the material and visual culture of the Byzantine empire, the Byzantine and early Islamic Levant (c.350-c.1099), “iconoclasm” and the history of peasant and non-elite communities (c.400-1000). He is co-director of the project “At the Crossroads of Empires: the Longobard Church of ...

Dr Kate Smith

Dr Kate Smith

Associate Professor in Eighteenth-Century History

I am an historian of eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century Britain and empire. I research how historical actors produced, consumed, and derived meaning from, the material world. I am currently working on a monograph provisionally entitled Losing Possession in the Long Eighteenth Century. My recent books include, Material Goods, Moving Hands: Perceiving Production in England, 1700-1830 (2014), N ...

Dr Emily Wingfield

Dr Emily Wingfield

Senior Lecturer

I’m a Lecturer in English Literature. I teach pre-1800 literature, with a particular focus on the Medieval and Renaissance periods. As a researcher, I work on medieval Scottish literature. I am particularly interested in romance, manuscript study, and book history.

The collections

From the earliest years of its existence as Mason Science College, and from 1900 as the University of Birmingham, objects have played an integral role in our teaching and learning here on campus. Before the advent of audio visual and digital media, lecturers and professors engaged their students through objects, and it is these objects that form the original nucleus of the University of Birmingham Research and Cultural Collections.

In the original plans drawn up for the University's new Edgbaston site in the 1890s, provision was made for at least eight separate museums relating to academic disciplines, including: Commerce, Applied Chemistry, Metallurgy, Mining, Engineering, Geology and Physiology. The extended collections in Classics, Ancient History and Archaeology, Physics and Astronomy, and Department of African Studies and Anthropology contain the majority of the original collections, some of which were built up over decades by purchase, gift or collection. Collections held by other schools gradually disappeared in the 1960s through a lack of awareness of their present or future value.

The University’s art collections grew from the 1960s through the dedication of a small number of determined academics who laid the foundations of the collections with commissions and acquisitions of work by artists including William Gear, Barbara Hepworth and Peter Lanyon. Their example encouraged the University to continue to develop the art collections from the 1990s up to the present day, adding works by commission, purchase or gift by Sonia Lawson, Julian Meredith, Nicholas Pope, John Walker, Hans Schwarz, Peter Randall-Page and Sir Eduardo Paolozzi. The collections were consolidated in 1991 when a survey was made of the miscellaneous groups of paintings and works on paper, sculpture, cultural artefacts, and ceremonial objects that were to be found across the University campus and a part time curator was appointed to begin the task of cataloguing, organising and assessing the collections. This programme of cataloguing, assessing and redisplaying the collections has continued in line with historical precedent, when the African and archaeological collections were the first to be given museum-quality display cases. 

Today there are five sites which hold collections:

Collections related to the College of Arts and Law include:

Publications by CMCM members

Dr Nathan Cardon

Books

  • Nathan Cardon, A Dream of the Future: Race, Empire, and Modernity at the Atlanta and Nashville World’s Fairs (New York: Oxford University Press, 2018) 
  • Nathan Cardon, The World Awheel: Americans in the First Global Bicycle Age, 1885-1929. “Global America” series. Under contract with Columbia University Press

Articles

  • Nathan Cardon , “Global Mass Culture, Mobile Subjectivities, and the Southern Landscape: The Bicycle in the New South, 1887-1920,” Journal of American Studies (forthcoming 2022)
  • Nathan Cardon , “Cycling on the Color Line: Race, Technology, and Bicycle Mobilities in the Early Jim Crow South, 1887-1905,” Technology & Culture 62, no. 4 (October 2021): 973-1002 
  • Nathan Cardon, “‘Less Than Mayhem’: Louisiana’s Convict Lease, 1865-1901” Louisiana History: The Journal of the Louisiana History Association (Fall, 2017): 416-439
  • Nathan Cardon, “The South’s ‘New Negroes’ and African American Visions of Progress at the Atlanta and Nashville International Expositions, 1895-1897,” Journal of Southern History 80, no. 2 (May 2014): 287-326

Professor Karen Harvey

Books

  • Karen Harvey, The Imposteress Rabbit Breeder: Mary Toft and Eighteenth-Century England (Oxford: Oxford University Press 2020) 
  • Alm, M., Harvey, K., eds. Powers of Description: Language and Social History in the Long Eighteenth Century (Stockholm Opuscula Historica Upsaliensia 2019)
  • Karen Harvey ed. History and Material Culture: A Student’s Guide to Approaching Alternative Sources (Abingdon: Routledge 2017)
  • Karen Harvey Authority in Eighteenth-Century Britain’ (Oxford: Oxford University Press paperback 2014)
  • Karen Harvey, Reading Sex in the Eighteenth Century: Bodies and Gender in English Erotic Culture (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 2004; paperback 2008)
  • Karen Harvey ed. The Kiss in History (Manchester: Manchester University Press 2005 Simultaneous hardback and paperback)

Journal articles

  • Karen Harvey ‘One British Thing: A History of Embodiment: Ann Purvis, ca.1793–1849’, Journal of British Studies, Vol.59 (1), 2020 p.136-139.
  • Karen Harvey ‘Epochs of Embodiment: Sex and the Material Body in the Eighteenth Century’, Journal for Eighteenth-Century Studies, 42, 4, 2019 pp. 455-69.
  • Karen Harvey, ‘The End of Craft? The Force of Embodied Male Labour in Industrial Manufacture in Early-Nineteenth Century Sheffield and Birmingham’, Nineteenth-Century Gender Studies, 2018
  • Karen Harvey, ‘Envisioning the Past: Art, Historiography and Public History’, Cultural and Social History [Published without revisions] 12, 4, 2015 pp.527-543
  • Karen Harvey, ‘What Mary Toft Felt: Language, Emotions and the Body’, History Workshop Journal, 2015 80, pp. 31-51
  • Karen Harvey, ‘Men of Parts: Embodiment and the Male Leg in Eighteenth-Century Britain’, Journal of British Studies, 54, 4, 2015 pp. 797-821. 
  • Karen Harvey, ‘The Manuscript History of Tristram Shandy’, The Review of English Studies, 65, 269, 2014 pp.281-301.
  • Karen Harvey, ‘Ritual encounters: punch parties and masculinity in the eighteenth century’, Past and Present, 214, 2012 pp. 165-203
  • Karen Harvey, ‘Visualizing Reproduction: a Cultural History of Early-Modern and Modern Medical Illustrations’, Journal of Medical Humanities, 31, 1, 2010 pp. 37-51.
  • Karen Harvey, ‘Men Making Home: Masculinity and Domesticity in Eighteenth-Century England’, Gender & History, 21, 3, 2009 pp. 520-540.
  • Karen Harvey, ‘The Substance of Sexual Difference: Change and Persistence in Eighteenth-Century Representations of the Body’, Gender and History, 14, 2, 2002 pp. 202-23.

Chapters in books

  • Karen Harvey ‘Craftsmen in Common: Skills, Objects and Masculinity in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries’, invited submission for Hannah Greig, Jane Hamlett and Leonie Hannan, eds., Gender and Material Culture c.1750-1950. London: Palgrave, pp. 68-89 (2015)
  • Karen Harvey, ‘Politics by Design: Consumption, Identity and Allegiance’ in Susanne Schmid and Barbara Schmidt-Haberkamp, eds., Drink in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries: Perspectives in Economic and Social History. London: Pickering and Chatto, pp. 11-22 (2014)

Dr Leire Olabarria

Kate Smith

Books

  • Kate Smith and Rosie Dias (eds) British Women and Cultural Practices of Empire, 1770-1940 (New York, 2019).
  • Kate Smith and Margot Finn (eds) The East India Company at Home, 1757-1857 (London, 2018). 
  • Kate Smith, Material Goods, Moving Hands: Perceiving Production in England, 1700-1830 (Manchester, 2014).

Journal articles 

  • Kate Smith, ‘Lost Things and the Making of Material Cultures in Eighteenth-Century London’, Journal of Social History, 55:1 (2021), 1-24. 
  • Kate Smith, ‘Amidst Things: New Histories of Commodities, Capital and Consumption’, Historical Journal, 61:2 (2018), 1-21.  
  • Kate Smith and Leonie Hannan, ‘Return and Repetition: Methods for Material Culture Studies’, Journal of Interdisciplinary History, XLVIII:I (2017), 1-17. 
  • Kate Smith, ‘Empire and the Country House in Early Nineteenth-Century Britain: The Amhersts of Montreal Park, Kent’, Journal of Colonialism and Colonial History, 16:3(2015), n.p.
  • Kate Smith, ‘In Her Hands: Materializing Distinction in Georgian Britain’, Cultural and Social History, 11:4 (2014), 489-506. 
  • Kate Smith, ‘Sensing Design and Workmanship: The Haptic Skills of Shoppers in Eighteenth-Century London’, Journal of Design History, 25:1 (March 2012), 1-10.

Book chapters and essays

  • Kate Smith, ‘Crinoidal Limestone and Staffordshire Teapots: Material and Temporal Scales in Eighteenth-Century Britain’ in Chloe Wigston-Smith and Beth Tobin (eds), Small Things in the Eighteenth Century: The Political and Personal Values of the Miniature (Cambridge, 2022), xx-xx.
  • Kate Smith, ‘Silence and Secrecy in Britain’s Eighteenth-Century Ceramics Industry’, in Kristine Bruland, Anne Gerritsen, Pat Hudson and Giorgio Riello (eds), Reinventing the Economic History of Industrialisation (Montreal, 2020), 59-71.
  • Kate Smith, ‘Production, purchase, dispossession, recirculation: Anglo-Indian ivory furniture in the British country house’, in Margot Finn and Kate Smith (eds), The East India Company at Home, 1757-1857 (London, 2018), 68-87. 
  • Kate Smith, ‘Manly objects? Gendering armorial porcelain wares’, in Margot Finn and Kate Smith (eds), The East India Company at Home, 1757-1857 (London, 2018), 113-130. 
  • Kate Smith and Margot Finn, ‘Refashioning house, home and family: Montreal Park, Kent and Touch House, Stirlingshire’, Margot Finn and Kate Smith (eds), The East India Company at Home, 1757-1857 (London, 2018), 153-174.  
  • Kate Smith, ‘Warfield Park, Berkshire: Longing, Belonging and the Country House’, in Margot Finn and Kate Smith (eds), The East India Company at Home, 1757-1857(London, 2018), 175-190. 
  • Kate Smith, ‘Englefield House, Berkshire: Processes and Practices and the Making of a Company House’, in Margot Finn and Kate Smith (eds), The East India Company at Home, 1757-1857 (London, 2018), 191-204. 
  • Kate Smith, ‘Imperial Objects? Country House Interiors in 18th-Century Britain’, in Jon Stobart and Andrew Hann (eds), The Country House: Material Culture and Consumption (London, 2015), 111-18.

Bibliography

  • Leora Auslander, ‘Beyond Words’, American Historical Review, 110/4 (2005), pp. 1015-1045.
  • Leora Auslander, Amy Bentley, Leor Halevi, H. Otto Sibum, 'AHR Conversation: Historians and the Study of Material Culture', American Historical Review, 114:5 (2009), 1354-1404.
  • Jeremy Aynsley, Christopher Breward and Marius Kwint (eds), Material Memories: Design and Evocation (Berg, Oxford, 1999).
  • Joanne Bailey, ‘Mediating on Materiality’, Cultural History, 3:2 (2014), 190-197.
  • Sarah Barber and Corinna Peniston-Bird (eds), History beyond the text: a student’s guide to approaching alternative sources (Routledge, London, 2009).
  • Mary C. Beaudry and Dan Hicks (eds) The Oxford Handbook of Material Culture Studies (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2010).
  • Jane Bennett, Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2010).
  • Tony Bennett and Patrick Joyce (eds), Material Powers: Cultural Studies, History and the Material Turn (London and New York: Routledge, 2010).
  • Wiebe E. Bijker, Of Bicycles, Bakelites, and Bulbs: Toward a Theory of Sociotechnological Change (MIT Press, 1995).
  • Jane Bennett, Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things (Duke University Press, 2010).
  • Mel Y. Chen, Animacies: Biopolitics, Racial Mattering, and Queer Affect (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2012).
  • Diana Coole and Samantha Frost, New Materialisms: Ontology, Agency and Politics (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2010).
  • Jonathan Curry-Machado, Global Histories, Imperial Commodities, Local Interactions (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013).
  • Stephanie Downes, Sally Holloway and Sarah Randles, eds., Feeling Things: Objects and Emotions through History (Oxford, 2018).
  • Margot Finn, ‘Men’s things: masculine possession in the consumer revolution’, Social History, 25, 2 (2000), pp. 133-54.
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  • Anne Gerritsen and Giogrio Riello (eds), Writing Material Culture History (London, 2015).
  • Ruth Geuter, ‘Reconstructing the context of seventeenth-century English figurative embroideries’, in Moira Donald and Linda Hurcombe (eds), Gender and Material Culture in Historical Perspective (London, 2000), pp. 97-111.
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  • Dena Goodman, ‘Furnishing Discourses:  Readings of a Writing Desk in Eighteenth-Century France’, in Maxine Berg and Elizabeth Eger (eds), Luxury in the Eighteenth Century (Palgrave, 2002), pp. 71-88.
  • Leonie Hannan and Sarah Longair (eds), History through Material Culture (Manchester, 2017).
  • Rosemary A. Joyce and Susan D. Gillespie (eds), Things in Motion: Object Itineraries in Anthropological Practice (Sante Fe: School for Advanced Research Press, 2015).
  • David Kuchta, The Three-Piece Suit and Modern Masculinity: England, 1550-1850 (University of California Press, Berkeley, 2002).
  • Beverly Lemire, ‘“Men of the World”: British Mariners, Consumer Practice, and Material Culture in an Era of Global Trade, c. 1660-1800’, Journal of British Studies, 54:2 (2015), pp. 288-319.
  • Daniel Miller, The Comfort of Things (Cambridge: Polity, 2008).
  • Daniel Miller, ed. 2005 Materiality Duke University Press
  • Timothy Mitchell, Rule of Experts: Egypt, Techno-Politics, Modernity (Berkeley, Los Angeles, London: University of California Press, 2002).
  • Sara Pennell, ‘“Pots and pans history”: the material culture of the kitchen in early modern England’, Journal of Design History, 11 (3), 1998.
  • Ulinka Rublack, ‘Matter in the Renaissance’, Past & Present (2013) 219, 1, pp.41-85. 
  • Raffaella Sarti, Europe at Home: Family and Material Culture, 1500-1800 (trans. Allan Cameron; Yale University Press, New Haven, 2002).
  • Carolyn Steedman, ‘What a rag rug means?, in Inga Bryden and Janet Floyd (eds), Domestic Space: Reading the Nineteenth-Century Interior (Manchester, MUP, 1999), pp. 18-39.
  • Susan Stewart, On Longing: Narratives of the Miniature, the Gigantic, the Souvenir, the Collection (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 1993).
  • John Styles, The dress of the people: everyday fashion in eighteenth-century England (New Haven, Conn.; London: Yale University Press, 2007).
  • Frank Trentmann, ‘Materiality in the Future of History: Things, Practices, and Politics’, Journal of British Studies, 48:2 (2009), 283-307.
  • Frank Trentmann, Empire of Things: How We Became a World of Consumers, from the Fifteenth Century to the Twenty-First (London: Allen Lane, 2016).
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 Image credit: Clara Ugbodaga-Ngu, Abstract, 1960. Credit: Research and Cultural Collections, University of Birmingham