Objects of Modernity: Practice, Heritage, Methodology

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The University of Birmingham
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British Academy Early Career Research Event:
Objects of Modernity: Practice, Heritage and Methodology
The University of Birmingham
Tuesday 24th June 2014

This one day forum, held at The University of Birmingham's Centre for the Study of Cultural Modernity and generously sponsored by the British Academy, provides a unique opportunity for early career researchers and established scholars from academia, the heritage and museum sector and the creative arts disciplines to reflect on shared concerns related to the theory, practice and methodology of objects research – objects as subjects of academic study, of heritage management and of creative impetus. This is a burgeoning field of study: thing theory, pioneered by Bill Brown among others, has spawned new, interdisciplinary research from literary critics, art historians, philosophers, sociologists and cultural historians about the ways in which objects and things can shed light on the past (as mediators of cultural, social and material interaction) and on the present (as markers of 'heritage').

The forum will provide an opportunity for ECRs working across different disciplines to come together to talk about the ways in which objects of modernity (physical, phenomenological, imagined) function in art, literature and culture, and will offer researchers a space in which the challenges of such objects (hermeneutic, methodological and curatorial) can be debated in an interdisciplinary way. ECRs from the heritage sector in particular will be encouraged to bring along information about their institutional collections, particularly in areas they consider to be untapped. The aim of the event is, therefore, to help unlock some of the resources, archives and collections of objects, things and artefacts of the industrial and post-industrial heritage of the UK to ECRs, and to help forge new professional, cross-disciplinary connections that will shape a growing and fertile field of study in the coming years.
The day will include three panels of position papers, entitled 'Practice', 'Heritage' and 'Methodology' (10-15 minute presentations) followed by debate, a tour of the University of Birmingham collections related to the topic and a talk given by collections staff at Birmingham. ECRs will have 'behind the scenes' access to some of the University of Birmingham's own objects of modernity on the day of the event - prosthetic limbs and other medical inventions, typewriters and early computers, anthropological finds, visual and plastic art, amongst many others - and the Head of Collections will speak about the scope of the collections and some of the ways in which they are being used at the moment for both academic research and public engagement. The forum will run alongside a larger academic conference, and attendees of this event will have free access to that conference, and will be invited to a networking reception on the evening of Monday 23rd June where they can meet fellow researchers in the field.

Please send proposals for 10-15 minute presentations to Dr Daniel Moore (d.t.moore@bham.ac.uk) by 14th April 2014. Papers might focus on one or more of the following:
• Methodologies and practices of material culture research.
• Objects of modernity as national heritage.
• Objects of modernity in untapped collections across the UK.
• Interpretations of individual objects of desire, objects of science, objects of war, objects of industry, or objects of religion, from the period 1850-1950.
• Objects of modernity as the source of contemporary creativity.