Mobility of Objects Across Boundaries (MOB) is a collaborative, interdisciplinary project, funded by an AHRC network grant, which reconsiders the history of material culture in the period AD 1000-1700.

One definition for a ‘mob’ in the Oxford English Dictionary is ‘a group of people in the same place or with something in common.’ MOB as a project takes this this idea of a gathering to include not only people but things. Through their mobility, objects came into contact with a ride range of individuals and with other things, giving rise to the dissemination and transfer of motifs, ideas, and knowledge.

From AD 1000-1700 major transformations took place in material culture and objects themselves were central to historical transformation. Highly mobile, they travelled across geographic, political, religious, linguistic, class and cultural boundaries resulting in new approaches and conceptions of those very boundaries. The transformations in material culture from 1000-1700, has resulted in period categorisations such as ‘commercial and consumer revolutions’ for the period 1000-1500 and a ‘material renaissance’ 1500-1700. However, these traditional, non object-centered approaches to material culture in the period 1000-1700 have resulted in a tendency to observe rather than explain change, and to assume historical forces a priori rather than establish them from objects themselves. In addition, the establishment of false periodizations to examine the development of material culture (the High Middle Ages, the Later Middle Ages, the early modern period) means that objects from this period have been situated within conventional categories, such as production and consumption or within historical boundaries, giving agency to the human actors, rather than the objects. In addition, although the ‘material turn’ in the humanities has had an effect on many disciplines, each discipline tends to engage with these methods and theories separately. These historical narratives, chronological and period boundaries mean that scholars have not considered how early the transformation in the number, range and social reach of objects took place or what the importance of movement of objects was to these ‘commercial, consumer revolutions or material renaissances’.

By creating a network of scholars from a range of academic disciplines and institutions and involving non-academic stakeholders, we have established a robust collaborative network to address this problem. Two workshops will use new categories (thresholds and boundaries, framing and translation) to examine objects from the period 1000-1700. This will allow academics to step out of their traditional frameworks and disciplines and provide a new methodological framework for considering objects 1000-1700. The breadth of expertise from those disciplines traditionally engaged with the close scrutiny of objects (archaeology, art history, conservation) coupled with historians and literary scholars who usually take texts as their starting point as well as digital humanists who can mine texts for objects and reconstruct broad spatial frameworks for the mobility of objects, will provide a network where different disciplines can explore these problems together.

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