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Centre for the Study of the Body and Material Culture

Centre for the Study of the Body and Material Culture

The Centre for the Study of the Body and Material Culture brings together brings together scholars of health and intimacy, politics and identity, consumption and urban planning and visual and material culture with the intention of promoting intellectual exchange and collaboration in this new field.

The Centre promotes a number of activities, including high-profile research projects, a seminar series, and workshops.

Founded in 2010 by Sandra Cavallo and Jane Hamlett, over the past decade the Centre has secured large grants for three major research projects as well as conferences and an international network. Hannah Platts joined as a Co-Director in 2017 and the centre is currently directed by Jane and Hannah. Since then the centre has increasingly served as a base for collaborative work with museum and heritage centres to share knowledge, develop historical research for curatorial use and explore how museum visitors experience history in sensory and digital worlds.

Biographies of Directors:

Jane Hamlett

Jane Hamlett is Professor of Modern British History at Royal Holloway University of London. Her research interests include histories of society and culture in modern Britain, women and gender, the family, intimacy and emotion, and material and visual culture. Her first book Material Relations: Middle-Class Families and Domestic Interiors In England, 1850-1910 (MUP, 2010) explored the relationship between middle-class families and their material worlds, and her second monograph At Home in the Institution: Material Life in Asylums, Lodging Houses and Schools in Victorian and Edwardian England (Palgrave, 2015) explored material culture and domesticity in institutional space. With Julie-Marie Strange, she is currently writing a book on the history of pets in modern Britain, based on their collective work for the AHRC Pets and Family Life Project.

Hannah Platts

Hannah Platts is a Senior Lecturer in ancient history and archaeology. Her research interests revolve around the material culture and social history of ancient Rome, in particular the factors which impact upon status display and social hierarchies in the Roman domestic sphere. Her first book Multisensory Living in Ancient Rome: Power and Space in Roman Houses (Bloomsbury 2019), examined the physical experience of daily life and ritual in the Roman house. By looking at diverse sensory experiences, such as sound, smell, touch, taste and sight, it investigated how Roman house owners manipulated bodily experiences in their dwellings in order to display social standing. As well as investigating the lived experience of Roman houses, her forthcoming  book Villas and Values: The Cultural and Competitive Lives of Rome’s Elites (Routledge) explores the luxury villas of mainland Italy and their role in constructing social perceptions of elite self-identity and what it actually was to be ‘elite’ in the Roman world.

Hannah’s fascination with multisensory research has also led her to examine how digital and immersive technologies can be used to recreate fragile and fragmentary historic sites and artefacts in order to bring to life past eras for today’s audiences and museum visitors outside the academy. She recently collaborated on an AHRC project entitled Sensations of Roman Life, where she helped build an immersive virtual reality model of a town house and neighbourhood from Roman Silchester using excavation reports to recreate not just the buildings but also the sounds and smells that reflected the archaeological finds of daily life in and around the dwelling. Building on from this project, Hannah has collaborated with numerous museums and heritage sites in the UK, including Historic Royal Palaces, Jorvik Viking Centre and Surrey History Centre in the UK and the Franklin Institute and Colonial Williamsburg in the US to explore the use of immersive and digital technologies in cultural institutions to develop visitor experience and widen participation, accessibility and diversity amongst audiences.

AHRC Sensations of Roman Life Project

AHRC Pets and Family Life in England and Wales Project

Read their blog here!

Impact Case Study: Transforming Curatorial Practices in Museums to Diversify Audiences

Read the case study here!

Round Table – ‘Home and Work’

Weds 9th October 2019, 11 Bedford Square.

Speakers: Laura Humphreys, Science Museum; Prof Jane Whittle, Exeter; Dr Annabelle Wilkins, Manchester; Prof Gillian Symons, RHUL.

The growth of a digital economy and an increased culture of working from home has, arguably, blurred the boundaries of home and work in twenty-first century society. But how is the divide between home and work constituted – and how have ideas and understandings of this varied between different periods, places, and culture? And how has this played out through domestic practices in embodied material words? How can taking a historical perspective change the way we understand these issues? Featuring experts from different disciplines, the round table explored the interaction of home and work from historical and contemporary perspectives.

International Conference – Domesticating the Air: A Political History of Breathing

11th September 2018 Bedford Square

Organised by Sandra Cavallo in collaboration with the Max Planck Institute for the History or Science

Round Table – Technologies on the Body

11 December at 5.30pm, Senate House, Room 104

Speakers: Dr Jane Draycott (Glasgow); Dr Paolo Savoia (Kings); Dr Jennifer Wallis (Imperial).

Commentator: Dr Angela McShane (Wellcome)

The roundtable brought together scholars from different periods and places to reflect on the relationship between technologies and the body, focusing on specific technologies that are used with or become part of the body. Our speakers explored the use of prosthetic limbs, cosmetic surgery and breathing apparatus - exploring the integration of objects, bodies and bodily processes.

Public Engagement Workshop – Recreating Domestic Technologies and Experiences

March 20 2019 RHUL

This afternoon workshop explored how household technologies and the experiences of using them are recreated in museum and education settings. The workshop opened with a talk from Dr Helen Peavitt, Science Museum Curator, on the display methods for household objects in the Science Museum and was followed by a practice-based session from Dr Katie Carpenter based around Victorian and Edwardian marmalade cutters.