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Helen Hills' Leverhulme Success

Posted on 21 April 2017

The Department is delighted to announce that Professor Helen Hills has been awarded a Leverhulme Research Fellowship for 2017-18, which she will combine with a period in Autumn Term 2017 as Senior Visiting Scholar at Villa I Tatti (Harvard Center for Renaissance Studies in Italy).

Marina Cotugno Pancake Produzioni
Image credit: Marina Cotugno Pancake Produzioni

Helen's project, 'Silver: Substance and Surface' investigates silver in relation to empire, coloniality and social, political and religious refinement on both sides of the Atlantic in the early modern world. Contemporary scholarship on silver bifurcates silver geographically and temporally. On one hand, silver’s extraction in the so-called ‘New World’ is interpreted in political, ecological and sociological terms, and in relation to its role in world trade, deforestation, the rise of capitalism and displaced labour. On the other, silver in Europe is something else altogether. Objects to be appreciated; a measure of the wealth and refinement of their possessors. Scholarship on European silver artefacts remains resolutely technical, connoisseurial and taxonomical. Thus in travelling from Potosí across the Atlantic Ocean to Europe silver changes appearance, language, and disciplinary field—in short, it changes epistemologically -- and the affect and politics of silver fall out of the picture in an inert ‘finished’ object. Helen's project challenges this disjunction to ask 'what happens when these discourses are brought into relation? How might silver's peculiarly quixotic capacities for transformation and refinement be thought in relation to material trauma? This research will take Helen to Latin American silver mines and churches adorned in silver and to Italy for library and archival work.