Objects collected by Charles Waterton in Guiana in 1820, on display in the Wakefield Museum

Things in History: Researching Material Culture

Tutor: Jesús Sanjurjo (tutor for 2018-19) / Helen Cowie

Module type: MA Skills

Module code: HIS00105M

Credits: 10

This module provides a practical and theoretical introduction to working with historical objects and material culture. It introduces students to the range of ways in which historians have made use of material culture in the course of their research, and the way in which such approaches have influenced historiographies of the medieval, early-modern, and modern periods. In practical workshops based in two York museums, students will learn how to handle historical objects properly, and the deceptively complicated task of describing them accurately. They will also learn how to ‘read’ objects, working out how attributes such as material, finish, or provenance can be interpreted and analysed in order to tell historians about their production, use, and value in the society in which they were created.

The provisional programme is as follows:

Week 1: Briefing (1 hour)
Week 2: Context/theory seminar: Objects in History (2 hours)
Week 3: Practical workshop I: Handling Objects. held at York Minster (4 hours)
Week 4: Practical workshop II: Collections, held at the National Railway Museum (4 hours)
Weeks 5-8: Independent project work
Week 8: Project Mini-Conference (3 hours)

Preliminary Reading 

  • Hicks, Dan and Mary Carolyn Beaudry (eds). The Oxford Handbook of Material Culture Studies. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010. 
  • Harvey, Karen (ed.). History and Material Culture: A Student’s Guide to Approaching Alternative Sources. London: Routledge, 2009. 
  • Kwint, Marius, Jeremy Aynsley and Christopher Breward (eds). Material Memories: Design and Evocation. Oxford, 1999.


For more information, please refer to the module catalogue.