skip to content

Image: Sāo Paulo Supermarket Credit: Patricia Boulhosa

The Material Culture Forum is an interdisciplinary research network with current members in half a dozen departments -- History, Archaeology, History of Art, English, Classics, History and Philosophy of Science, and others, along with several university museums. The Forum is open, however, to all those interested in material culture – from the hard sciences to the arts and humanities and everyone in between!

We meet once a term to discuss material culture theory and interpretation. Seminars focus upon specific themes, and involve short presentations and discussion. All staff and students are welcome, and we especially welcome participation by early career scholars (graduate students and postdocs).


Seminars for 2020-2021 Academic Year (all held virtually)

Religious Materiality

23 November 2020


The Michaelmas 2020 Material Culture Forum was hosted by the Department of History and dedicated to the theme of religious materiality, or the materiality of religion and cult. The seminar included members across the university as well as Andrew Morrall, from the Bard Graduate Center, and who shared some of his recent works ahead of time with the community. See: 

The presentations for this seminar included:

Religious Materiality in the Early Modern World

Andrew Morrall (Bard Graduate Center, New York)

Perspectives from the Ancient World

Rebecca Flemming and Tatiana Bur (Department of Classics)

Genes and Proteins: Scientific Approaches

Matthew Teasdale and Matthew Collins (Department of Archaeology)

Tudor Bibles and Benin Bronzes: The Politics of Religious Objects

Paola Ricciardi (Fitzwilliam Museum) and Mark Davis (Department of Archaeology)


A further three blog posts were posted earlier by members of the post-graduate community

‘Ramadan at home and the materiality of prayer rugs’. - Yahya Nurgat

Jewish Gravestones and the Politics of Memory - Anna Parker

Rings, Kings, Saints and Toads - Róisín Donohoe


COLOUR: Art, Science & Power  

15 March 2021

The Lent 2021 Material Culture Forum was hosted by the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology and organised by Dr. Anita Herle (Senior Curator), who also introduced the topic. The theme was explored across the disciplines but was also meant to align with an upcoming exhibit at the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.

‘Colour Science in the Whipple Museum’

Joshua Nall (Whipple Museum of the History of Science)

The Whipple Museum of the History of Science holds a diverse range of objects relating to the study of light, colour, and colour perception.  I will talk through a few of these things to motivate discussion around how we might display the materiality of colour science in the MAA's forthcoming exhibition.

'Material and Sensory Experiences of Colour'

Adèle Wright, (Paintings Conservator, HKI and Faculty of History)

The materiality of colour is crucial to the sensory experience of it. In this talk I seek to first, demonstrate the interconnection between colour as light and colour as a material embodied experience, and second, foreground political and cultural significance through the materiality of colour in material culture.

'Painted Lady: the case of the Peplos Kore'?

Suzanne Turner (Museum of Classical Archaeology)

The Museum of Classical Archaeology's most famous artefact is an unusual one: a reproduction of an ancient sculpture, painted in the 1970s under the auspices of then Curator, Prof Robert M Cook. But why does she seem so garish and out of place to so many visitors? And how does she help us to think about colour - and whiteness?

‘Some Material Culture Aspects of Red’

Spike Bucklow, (Hamilton Kerr Institute)   

This overview notes connections between the use of red matter in artists' studios, cosmetics, textiles, trade, industry and medicine with examples drawn from the late-medieval / early-modern periods and the nineteenth century.

‘Art Ripened Red: "Cactus-Blood" and "Chili-Red" Texts, Textiles, and Things from Mesoamerica and the Andes’

Dr Joshua Fitzgerald (Churchill College, University of Cambridge)

This talk examines the cultural and material significance of red pigments made from crushed insects (Dactylopius coccus, commonly called cochineal) and its use by Mesoamerican and the Andean weavers, painters, and scribes before and after transatlantic encounters in the sixteenth century.


The Making and Knowing Project Special Seminar

17 May 2021

This special mini-seminar invited the Making and Knowing Project (directed by Professor Pamela H. Smith, Seth Low Professor of History, Columbia University) to present their recent research on the subject with three lightning talks on "New User Stories: Making and Knowing with Secrets of Craft and Nature in Renaissance France,"

Introduction to the Making and Knowing Project 

Pamela H. Smith (Columbia University)

Translating Ornament Design Across Media: Reconstructing the Artist's Brief

Tianna Helena Uchacz (Department of Visualization, Texas A&M University)

Distillation – Reconstructing Process and Expertise

Tillmann Taape (Molina Research Fellow in the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences, The Huntington Library)

Reconstructing Weatherproof Clothing in early modern Europe

Sophie Pitman (Refashioning the Renaissance Project, Aalto University)


Meetings in 2018/19:

  • Michaelmas 2019 (hosted by Archaeology): Objectscapes
  • Easter 2019 (hosted by History of Art): Authenticity
  • Lent 2019 (hosted by History): Ageing

For information on upcoming events – please check with our contacts, sign up for the mailing list or see events in our respective departments.


The Material Culture Forum is run as an autonomous workers' collective. For information or to be added to our mailing list, contact Mary Laven in the Faculty of History, John Robb in the Department of Archaeology, or Carolyn Van Eck in the Department of History of Art.