CFP: Objects From Abroad in 18th-20th Centuries (New York, 25 Apr 13)

Objects From Abroad. The Life of Exotic Goods in France and the United States (18th-20th Centuries)
25th April 2012
CNRS NYU Center for International Research in the Humanities and Social Sciences, Transitions UMI 3199, 4 Washington Square North, New York, New York, 10003,
Deadline for abstracts : Dec 31, 2012
The development of material studies and consumption studies, of
anthropology of the material world and the material culture of art
history shows growing interest for the material dimension of pictures
and goods. This perspective calls attention to the physical and social
life of things. In this sense, our conference looks to analyse the
production of goods and their transformation, in connection with their
various uses and contexts. A historiography focusing on the
construction of international spaces and exchanges through the
movements of things, goods, merchandises and artworks is currently on
its way.
This conference would like to concentrate on the goods imported in
France and the United States between the 18th and the 20th century, and
their existence within their new environment: business or tourist
trips, where the exotic objects were collected and gathered in private
spaces; scientific expeditions, where “anthropological” artefacts were
collected for Western museums. What kind of things and goods were
brought back to New York City, Paris, and the other American and French
cities – and through cities of many countries – between the 18th and
the 20th century? How were they exhibited, put on display, but also
converted and updated? We wish to interrogate the life and “career” of
goods, their collection and their circulation, as well as the way in
which goods acted upon reception societies. What was the impact of
these objects on ways to consume, to live, to dress, to create? What
about the processes of translation and interpretation that accompanies
such uses and appropriation?

Exchanges between Europe and United States were heavy and significant
but they are seldom analysed. Therefore they needs to be carefully
examined. At the same time, paying attention to these goods is also a
way to repopulate these worlds with different actors. Collectors, but
also ethnographers, dealers, painters, soldiers: they were all
inventing, marketing and consuming these singular things. From this
angle, these goods become boundary objects that mobilized and gathered
different communities – scientific, commercial, artistic, etc. Around
the actors lie various spaces: we would like to observe the large scale
movements but also micro-movements and circulations, and also how these
goods were set up and displayed in museums as well as in houses. In
this sense, this conference tries to link social practices and
representations, visual and material cultures, private and public
Four directions, all connected, could be explored during this
1.    Uses and re-uses
Processes of decontextualisation and recontextualisation (collection,
re-use, reparation) will focus our attention. How are the objects sold,
exposed, reterritorialized? When bought, how are they used? And, when
necessary, how are they repaired or redesigned? Rebuilt and recomposed?
Through a series of case studies, it may be useful to follow certain
objects from the merchant’s shop to the individual interiors, or from
the private space to the museum, looking carefully at the hands and
gestures that welcome and transform the goods.
2.    Witnesses and souvenirs
Some objects, such as travel souvenirs, have a special memorial
function. What kind of memory do they keep ? What are they witnessing?
How do they tell us an emotion, a narrative, a story or a part of
history? This reflection can also be extended to the issue of fake and
authenticity, or of hyper-reality, by studying life-casts, prints, or,
in some cases, photography.
3.    Actors and markets
Objects are taken as part of a chain involving various actors and
consumers that need to be identified. Who are the people involved in
these exchanges and what are their roles in the invention of these
objects? In their updating and marketing? What are the specific issues,
circuits and contours of these markets? How do the different actors and
consumers use these objects to develop various identities ?
4.    Fictions and identities
The fourth axis will focus on fiction, disguise, game, and more
generally on fictional use. Joanna Sofaer has already shown how the use
and representation of some exotic accessories build identities . How do
dresses, dishes or accessories related to tobacco, for instance, work
on the identity of their owner? How are these objects mobilized and
used in the artworld, in private or public spaces, theater plays or
Paper abstracts (maximum 300 words) and a short bio (maximum 100 words) should be submitted to Noemie Etienne (
and Manuel Charpy
( by
December 31, 2012.

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