"Human beings create things, empiness gives them meaning" -- attributed to Lao Tzeo
The Material Worlds working group is an interdisciplinary collection of scholars from within the university whose research and teaching engage with the broad themes of material culture studies. The aim of this group is to explore the potential of material culture as a unifying concept in examining questions that range from the nature of agency to the ascetics of art. That such questions can be the result of cataloguing long buried pottery sherds, debates about Egyptian organ transplantation, or analyzing the receipts of 19th century farmers has become a testament to the power of things to shape the social world that we all inhabit.
For the academic year 2008-2009 the working group will take on a new format that will become more a workshop space for presentations, precirculated papers in progress, and structured discussions, all of which are intended to continue the work of interdisciplinarity. In particular we are looking to develop new links with material science, issues of consumption, and promoting the integration of material culture studies into the curriculum across the academy. The goal is to foster the kind of intimate settings that allow for a culture of debate and the conceptual apparatus for successful interdisciplinary dialogue within the humanities and beyond. This effort has been generously supported by a grant from the Cogut Center for the Humanities. Please view the 2008-2009 grant proposal for more information on our goals and mission.
We also strongly encourage the participation of graduate students with an interest in material culture. We plan to reserve two slots for advanced graduate students to present their work, perhaps as dissertation chapters, or first articles.
In the spring of 2008 the working group hosted a symposium marked by the keynote address of Professor Tim Ingold. The aim of this event was to provide a forum in which Brown researchers and a number of outside colleagues present ongoing projects in which "things" matter. One of the key questions that we must ask is whether the study of material culture works best when located at the interstices of a disciplined academia or whether it can better flourish within its own institutional framework. This event is an experiment in finding that balance.