Objects in Motion in the Early Modern World

This year's annual conference, "Objects in Motion in the Early Modern World," was organized by Daniela Bleichmar (Art History and History, USC), Meredith Martin (Wellesley College), and Joanne Pillsbury (Getty Research Institute). It was a collaboration between the EMSI and the Getty Research Institute, and was hosted by the Getty Museum on May 10 and 11, 2013. The entire conference was video archived and can be accessed here.

The conference brought together an international group of junior and senior scholars to examine the circulation of objects across regions and cultures in the early modern period, addressing the ways in which mobility led to new meanings, uses, and interpretations. Scholarly presentations addressed such topics as the diplomatic exchange of gifts among the Ottoman Empire, Europe, and South Asia; the transfer of luxury goods between China and Mexico; and the reception of Persian ceramics and other foreign imports on the Swahili Coast of East Africa. The conference also included breakout sessions that invited the audience to consider the questions raised by the conference while examining works at the Getty, drawing on the expertise of curators, conservators, and educators at the Getty. A closing roundtable provided an opportunity to discuss the methodological and theoretical potential of current scholarly interest in things, mobility, and the global.

Some of the questions we explored included:

- By what mechanisms or agents were objects transported, translated, resisted, and consumed in the early modern period?

- How did mobility intersect with cultural meaning in the early modern world? How did location, relocation, and contextualization affect meaning? Did some objects move, adapt, or “stick” better than others? What role did environment or context play in an object’s fixity or mutability?

- What kinds of cultural meanings tended to travel with an object as it moved from place to place, and which ones were lost in transit and reinscription?

- When did objects function as eloquent “things that talk”? When did they serve as mute candidates for human ventriloquism? How does historical investigation navigate these interpretive possibilities?

- In what ways did objects shape or alter an understanding of the cultures from which they derived, as well as the practices and beliefs of the new environments into which they were placed?

- What similarities and discontinuities does a comparative transregional approach provide—going beyond case studies, would a global story be possible or desirable?

- Why have canonical images, buildings, or art objects traditionally stood outside of debates about global cultural exchange, and how are they implicated in this history?

- How does the current scholarly interest in globalization, mobility, and cultural exchange impact the major narratives of early modern art and history? What are the larger implications of this line of inquiry for the study of the early modern period, and for art history as a discipline?

Friday and Saturday, May 10-11, 2013
Museum Lecture Hall, The Getty Center

Schedule, Friday, May 10, 2013
Schedule, Saturday, May 11, 2013

The Getty Research Institute is a program of the J. Paul Getty Trust. Other programs of the Trust include the J. Paul Getty Museum, the Getty Conservation Institute, and the Getty Foundation.


Image (top): Vallard Atlas (detail), 1547. Courtesy of the Huntington Library (HM29.f12)

USC-Huntington Early Modern Studies Institute
Past Conferences

Annual Conference 2012
Annual Conference 2011

Current Conference

Annual Conference, 2016:
Global Maritime History

Past Conferences

Annual Conference, 2015:
World and Ground: New Early American Histories

Annual Conference, 2013:
Ephemerality and Durability

Annual Conference, 2012
The New World of Projects, 1550-1750

Annual Conference, 2011:
The Nature of Invention in Early Modern Europe