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CFP: AHRC Network Conference: Gender, Power and Materiality in Early Modern Europe, 1500-1800'

Submission deadline: December 31, 2015

Conference date(s):
April 7, 2016 - April 9, 2016

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Conference Venue:

Department of History, University of Plymouth
Plymouth, United Kingdom

Topic areas


Call for Papers

Three-day conference on ‘Gender, Power and Materiality in Early Modern Europe, 1500-1800’

Plymouth University, 7-9 April 2016

Speakers include:

Tara Hamling (University of Birmingham)

Joanna Norman (Victoria and Albert Museum)

Merry Wiesner-Hanks (University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee)

This three-day conference on the theme of ‘Gender, Power and Materiality in Early Modern Europe, 1500-1800’ is part of a two-year AHRC-funded international research network run by Professor James Daybell (Plymouth University), Professor Svante Norrhem (Lund University), Dr Nadine Akkerman (Leiden University) and Professors Susan Broomhall and Jacqueline Van Gent (University of Western Australia). We are looking for papers that explore the relationships between gender, power and ‘materiality’ – a term that is broader than ‘material culture’, in that it opens up spatial sites and material texts – defined both in terms of objects or the physical features of texts and the social and cultural practices, and spaces in which they were produced, consumed, exchanged and displayed. Papers should focus on different forms of power (political, social, economic and cultural) across the early modern period in Europe, and encompasses formal and informal power. In viewing power and materiality through the lens of gender, the organisers encourage transdisciplinary approaches and aim to bring into dialogue historians, art and architectural historians, literary critics, material culture specialists, anthropologists, archaeologists, curators, archivists and conservators.

In recent years, scholars across Europe from a range of disciplines have sought to understand the gendered structures of politics in sixteenth-, seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Europe. Much has been done to reconstruct men’s and women’s roles, to rethink categories and definitions of what constituted ‘power’, ‘politics’ and ‘agency’ throughout this period, integrating the personal and informal, with the public and formal, and analysing gender as a dynamic at the state, family, and wider society level. Parallel to this work, the last decade or so has witnessed the ‘material turn’ in history, borrowing approaches from the vast fields of material culture, anthropology and archaeology which lend a sophisticated theoretical and methodological understanding of the ways in which objects worked. Scholars have studied the relationship between power and materiality and materiality and gender, but less well studied is the degree to which power and materiality were gendered in the early modern period. Among early modern historians, material studies have looked at gendered patterns of production, consumption and taste or households and related objects as sites of material meaning and display. For literary critics, work on materiality and gender has tended to focus on the body, although there is an increasing amount of work on the materiality of women’s texts broadly defined to encompass ‘literary’ and ‘non-literary’ texts, canonical and non-traditional forms, the latter encompassing for example embroidery and needlework. For women’s studies, this turning away from author to the object leads to a range of interesting questions that remain unanswered about material objects as expressions of gendered power (and gendered lack of power), which are produced, consumed, owned, collected and archived. Finally, interdisciplinary work on gifts and gift-giving has studied the exchange of material objects and texts as a way of understanding social and political relationships, but scholars have far to go to uncover the gendered dynamics of gift-exchange.

Influenced by the ‘material turn’, the network considers objects as social agents, analysing the gendered power structures (and non-power) embedded within physical artefacts and the social practices of production, consumption and exchange, especially in relation to early modern practices and modern theories of gift-giving. It questions how far materiality made gender positions stable and unstable; and studies objects to reconstruct new networks and gendered forms of power created around object exchange and production. Secondly, it considers archives as a form of gendered power, and spaces (e.g. noble households, courts, libraries and churches) in which material objects were located, and their connection with the politics of memory, gift-giving and display. Potential topics might include (but are by no means limited to):

·        methodologies and meanings of gender, power and materiality in early modern Europe,

·        objects and theorizing gendered power

·        gender and the politics of early modern archives and architectural spaces

·        diplomacy and the politics of gift-exchange

·        (female) patrons (of artists, designers and workshops), consumers (shoppers and commissioners) and gift-givers

·        gendered furniture

·        writing technologies and the materials of secrecy and power

·        gendered activities, behaviours, rituals and fashions

·        gender and disguise

·        presentation and display

·        collecting and connoisseurship

·        questions of materiality in relation to curating, preservation and archiving

The conference will employ a range of formats, including two keynote lectures,postgraduate/early career/next generation training seminars and practitioner-led workshops, round-table discussions, and panel sessions. Papers from postgraduate and early career scholars are welcome and reduced conference rates are available. Please send abstracts of papers to Professor James Daybell ( or to Professor Svante Norrhem ( by 31 December 2015.

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