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Upcoming symposiums and congresses: Issue 16, March 2016
Call for Papers: Textile Gifts in the Middle Ages - Objects, Actors, and Representations International Conference
As art history has given greater attention to material culture and its social contexts as a whole, the applied arts have also re-entered the scope of art historical discourse. Cultural-historical approaches, such as those employed in material culture studies, explore the objectness of artifacts and their efficacy. Related are studies of objects as mediums of symbolic communication, in which such objects are described and interpreted as part of complex performances of ritual and ceremony. Gifts of textiles in the Middle Ages provide a test field for the evaluation of such questions and approaches for the discipline of art history.
Gifts of textiles and clothing appeared in diverse contexts and fulfilled various functions in pre-modern Europe. They could be offered in the course of an initiation rite or an act of social transition, including upon investiture, marriage, or entry into a monastery. Gifts of clothing to the poor, meanwhile, were among the works of charity thematized in the vitae of numerous medieval saints. Sumptuous textiles were sent as resplendent gifts to religious institutions or, like patterned silk textiles from Byzantium, circulated through diplomatic gift exchanges. Gifts of clothing were also distributed within the court as compensation in kind, which supported the structuralization and hierarchization of courtly society. Gifts of clothing could represent the donor. Especially in the case of clothing previously worn by its donor, the physical presence of the giver might have been woven into the materiality and form of the gifted garment.
The goal of this interdisciplinary conference is to situate the diversity and polysemy of such acts of symbolic communication into the broader context of medieval gift culture. Already in the 1920s, Marcel Mauss showed that gift giving established social relationships and was composed of three necessary elements: giving, accepting, and reciprocating (the "principle of reciprocity"). At play in such exchanges is essentially the construction of power and social hierarchies. While Mauss' theory has long been employed within medieval studies, recent criticism has pointed out that the particular efficacy resulting from the material and visual qualities of gifts has not been sufficiently addressed, as studies applying Mauss' model concentrate primarily on donors, recipients, and their interaction. In other words, the context of the exchange has been privileged over the objects of exchange (Cecily Hilsdale, 2012). With its focus on images and objects, art history is poised to show how the dynamics of reciprocity and its attendant obligations might be charged both visually and materially.
The conference focuses on textile gifts in pre-modern Europe in order to explore such questions in greater detail. The integration of anthropological models into an art historical approach allows for gifted artifacts to be taken seriously as independent entities within the giving process as a socially generative form of communication. The relationship between the actors and the "agency" of gifts themselves can therefore be further explored (Bruno Latour).
We invite paper proposals from the field of art history and related disciplines, such as history, anthropology, archaeology, and literature. Papers might address the following subjects in particular:
Church Monuments Society: Sussex Memorials: The County's Occupants and Occupations
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