Call for Papers

Other Things: Materiality and the Empire, 1600-1850
Date: 3rd and 4th of September 2020
Location: Metsätalo Building, room 12, University of Helsinki, Finland
Keynote speaker: Amanda Vickery (Queen Mary, University of London)


George Cruikshank, Middling heat in the West Indies. London: S. W. Fores, 1817. The British Museum, London.


Materiality and the history of things has recently come under increased scholarly scrutiny with the so-called material turn in historical research, with increasing emphasis being placed on the ways in which the material world around us—the nature, our built environment, the things we own—shapes our identity and conditions the possibilities of our agency. Similarly, recent enquiries into European history have emphasised the extent to which Europe—its identity, material culture, and financial success—was made through its colonial subjugation of overseas Others.

Investigation of materiality has proved a fruitful path into untangling European colonialism from a fresh perspective in the recent openings made by, for example, Londa Schiebinger (2004), Monique Allewaert (2013), and Kevin Siena (2019). It is clear that European project of colonisation was underpinned by materiality in many different ways. For example, material gain drove the colonising effort in the form of tea, coffee, sugar, and other colonial goods. Then again, in tropical colonies, Europeans met with and were often overcome by radically different material conditions to temperate Europe, and colonised spaces were described in terms of wildness, savageness, and decay. Finally, European colonisers spread their material culture around the world in what could be described as cultural and material imperialism, while importing non-European things into the metropole, effectively hybridising the European way of life.

About the workshop

This one-day workshop examines the importance of matter in colonial encounters and to European self-understanding. Papers are invited to engage with material culture and materiality, understood in a broad sense, from a colonial and imperial perspective. Especially considerations of European or colonized bodies as matter, colonized spaces as material agents, and neo-materialist interpretations of the empire, colonial knowledge, and agency are welcome; other suggested topics include the global circulation of things, the empire at home, or things-as-identities.

Matter not only propelled the European colonizing project, but it fundamentally changed and shaped it while getting changed and shaped itself in the process. European imperial identities, culture, science, economy, ecology, and society all revolved around defining, moulding and (ab)using matter in its different forms, but matter also produced, limited and redefined the parametres of European ways of thinking, acting, and being.

The interdisciplinary workshop will bring together established scholars, early career researchers, and postgraduate researchers examining the topic from a variety of cultural and intellectual history, literature, and historical geography perspectives. The symposium is organized in collaboration with the interdisciplinary Colonial Spaces, Colonial Power (COSCOP) research network and Helsinki Centre for Intellectual History. The keynote lecture will be given by Professor Amanda Vickery (Queen Mary, University of London), whose books include Behind Closed Doors: At Home in Georgian England (2009) and Gender, Taste, and Material Culture in Britain and North America, 1700-1830 (2006).

Call for Papers

Those who wish to present a paper in the conference are kindly requested to send an abstract of no more than 500 words (in .rtf, .docx or .pdf format) to by February 28, 2020. Please send with the abstract your name, affiliation, contact information and field of specialization.

Notices of acceptance will be sent by April 10, 2020.

Further information about the conference, social programme, travel and accommodation in Helsinki is available on this web page.