Call for Papers:

On Nearness, Order, and Things: Collecting and Material Culture: 1400 to Today


A Joint Conference Sponsored by

Northrop Frye Centre, and Centre for Reformation and Renaissance Studies, University of Toronto

Victoria College, University of Toronto

8th-9th April 2016

With support provided by the Jackman Humanities Institute
Program for the Arts, University of Toronto,
and from Queen’s University

Keynote Speakers:

Prof. Susan Buck-Morss (CUNY Graduate Center & Cornell University)

Prof. Benjamin Schmidt (University of Washington)

Invited Artist: Prof. Carlota Caulfield (Mills College)
In convolute H of The Arcades Project, Walter Benjamin calls collecting a form of practical memory and “the most binding manifestation of nearness.” As the influence of thing theory and object-oriented ontology on the humanities grows and the interdisciplinary reach of material culture expands, how we experience our proximity to the objects, agents and actants that make up our environment becomes more and more compelling. This conference seeks to address questions surrounding collecting and its many nuances as they relate to the themes of proximity, ordering and “thingness” from theoretical, artistic and practical perspectives.

We are casting a wide temporal net and, in addition to welcoming reflections on contemporary issues, recognize that a key component of research on material culture in recent years has been the study of collecting and consumption patterns in early modern Europe. Thus, we seek to bring together current research on collecting from 1400 to today and from a variety of perspectives such as anthropology, art history, economics, gender studies, moral philosophy, museology, scientific history, and sociology to explore questions such as – but not limited to – the following:

How did the collecting and display of luxury goods evolve from a privilege of elite court culture (for instance, in Rudolfine Prague) to a driver of middle class consumerism (i.e: seventeenth-century Amsterdam)? Has this changed today? How did – and do – the formation of international networks of agents, dealers, and brokers (or individual actors within these networks) contribute to the circulation of works of art and other luxury goods? What factors contribute(d) to patterns of taste formation and market value? What patterns and factors shape(d) interaction with “everyday” objects such as furniture, ceramics, and clothing? How did/do the collecting and ordering of material artefacts and specimens contribute to the development of scientific modes of inquiry such as natural history and ethnography? We are particularly interested in studies that consider the history and/or practice of collecting in the context of class, gender, and/or global patterns of production, consumption and exchange.
Proposals should be submitted by no later than Friday October 2nd, 2015 at 11:59pm EST.

Submissions must include:

  • an abstract for your proposed 20 minute paper (max. 250 words)
  • a short bio (max. 200 words)
  • a curriculum vitae

For more information and to submit your proposal, visit

Contact Email:

CFP – On Nearness, Order, and Things: Collecting and Material Culture: 1400 to Today, Toronto, 2016

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