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Level 5

5AAH1009 World History: Material Culture (1500-1900)

Credit value: 15
Module convenor/tutor: Professor Francisco Bethencourt
Teaching pattern: 10 x 2-hour seminar (weekly)
Availability: Please see module list for relevant year
 1 x 1,500-word formative essay;  1 x 3,000-word essay (100%)

Students are reassessed in the failed elements of assessment and by the same methods as the first attempt.

The modules offered in each academic year are subject to change in line with staff availability and student demand: there is no guarantee every module will run. Module descriptions and information may vary between years


The purpose of this module is to introduce students to World History through material culture. The main objects and configurations of material culture, from the body as commodity to cowries as money, will be analysed in this course. Food, drinks, drugs, fabrics, dress, houses, furniture, interior decoration, urban planning and gardens structure a diversified programme. The circulation of objects around the world, in some cases under different materials and forms, will open the way to consider cultural exchange between different civilisations, meaning forms of transfer, contamination, adaptation and refusal.

Suggested introductory reading

This is suggested reading and purchase of these books is not mandatory.

Arjun Appadurai, The Social Life of Things: Commodities in Cultural Perspective (Cambridge, 1986)

Karen Harvey (ed.), History and Material Culture (London, 2009)

Paula Findlen (ed.), Early Modern Things. Objects and their Histories, 1500-1800 (London, 2013)

Pamela H. Smith et alii (eds.), Ways of Making and Knowing: The Material Culture of Empirical Knowledge (Ann Arbor, 2014)

Florike Egmond and Robert Zwijnenberg (eds.), Bodily Extremities. Perceptions with the Human Body in Early Modern European Culture (Aldershot, 2003)

Darryll Grentley and Nina Taunton (eds.), The Body in Late Medieval and Early Modern Culture (Aldershot, 2000)

Pamela H. Smith, The Body of the Artisan. Art and Experience in the Scientific Revolution (Chicago, 2004)

Nicholas Thomas et alii (eds.), Tattoo: Bodies, Art and Echange in the Pacific and Europe (London, 2005)

Fernand Braudel, Civilization and Capitalism, 15th-18th century, vol. I The Structures of Everyday Life (London, 1981)

Kenneth F. Kipple, A Movable Feast. The Millenia of Food Globalization (Cambridge, 2009)

François Delamare and Bernard Guineau, Colours: the Story of Dyes and Pigments (New York, 2000)

Michel Pastoureau, Black: the History of a Colour (Princeton, 2009)

Giorgio Riello, Cotton. The Fabric that Made the Modern World (Cambridge, 2013)

John William Waterer, Spanish Leather: a History of its Use from 800 to 1800 (London, 1971)

Carlo Mario Belfanti, ‘Was Fashion a European Invention?’, Journal of Global History 3 (2008) 419-443.

Ulinka Rublack, Dressing Up: Cultural Identity in Renaissance Europe (Oxford, 2010)

Yedida Kalfon Stillman, Arab Dress. A Short History from the Dawn of Islam to Modern Times (Leiden, 2000)

Gao Chunming, Chinese Dress and Adornment Through the Ages (Harrow, 2010)

Mary Laven, Mission to China. Matteo Ricci and the Jesuit Encounter with the East (London, 2011)

Luís de Moura Sobral, ‘The Expansion and the Arts: Transfers, Contaminations, Innovations’, in F. Bethencourt and D. Curto (eds.), Portuguese Oceanic Expansion (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), pp. 390-459

Julia Hutt, Japanese Netsuke (London, 2003)

Nicholas Thomas, Entangled Objects. Exchange, Material Culture, and Colonialism in the Pacific (Cambridge, Mass., 1991)

Catherine Coquery-Vidrovitch, History of African Cities South of the Sahara (Princeton, 2005), ch. 5

Deborah Howard, Venice and the East: the Impact of Islam on Venetian Architecture, 1000-1500 (New Haven, 2000)

Richard Kagan, Urban Images of the Hispanic World, 1493-1793 (New Haven, 2000)

A. E. J. Morris, History of Urban Form Before the Industrial Revolution, 3rd ed. (London: Prentice Hall, 1994), ch. 11

Renata Ago, Gusto for Things. A History of Objects in Seventeenth-Century Rome (Chicago, 2013)

Thomas P. Campbell (ed.), Tapestry in the Barroque: Threads of Splendor (New Haven, 2007)

Muktirajsinhji Chaudu, A History of Interior Design in India (Ahmedabad, 2007)

Craig Clunas, Chinese Furniture (London, 1988)

Hannah Grieg and Giorgio Riello (eds.), Eighteenth Century Interiors: Redesigning the Georgian special issue of the Journal of Design History, 20, 4 (2007)

Kazuko Koizumi, Traditional Japanese Furniture (Tokyo: Kodansha, 1986)

Claudia Lazzaro, The Italian Renaissance Garden (New Haven, 1990)

Chandra Mukerji, Territorial Ambitions and the Gardens of Versailles (Cambridge, 1997)

Günter Nitschke, Japanese Gardens. Right Angle and Natural Form (London, 2007)

Lou Qingxi, Chinese Gardens (Cambridge, 2010)

Louise Wickham, Gardens in History. A Political Perspective (Oxford, 2012)

Catherine Eagleton, Jonathan Williams, Money: A History (London, 2007)

Jan Hogendorn and Marion Johnson, The Shell Money of the Slave Trade (Cambridge, 1986)

J. F. Richards (ed.), Precious Metals in the Later Medieval and Early Modern Worlds (Durham, N. C., 1983)

Yang, Bin - 'The Rise and Fall of Cowries Shells: the Asian History', Journal of World History, 22, 2 (2011) 1-25

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