Emotional Objects: the conference


“[…] objects often inspire emotions that are so individual and personal difficult to generalise” Will Tulett 

I’ve enjoyed like a child the Emotional Objects conference last weekend. Well, not really like a child. Like a grow-up child that accidentally became an academic would be a better description, I think. Anyway, I enjoyed it.

The merit, quite obviously, it’s neither mine, nor my ability of being easily amused, but the brilliant, excellent, great work Alice Dolan and Sally Holloway made all this months before. The selection of the papers was almost perfect, as well as how they were ‘bunched’ into coherent ‘bouquets’. Besides this, they were also lucky in the selection of the rooms (yes, we are talking about “material culture”, rooms are important too): so many people talking about hair and love, and the main room was dominated by a “Bird of Pray” made of… hair (see below)!

But “Audentes fortuna iuvat” and it was bold of Alice and Sally to organize this workshop. So many congratulations, and thank you.

A more (not-too-much) academic synopsis of the workshop follows, in which I will stress the most relevant issues we addressed, in my humble opinion. But I’m pretty sure you will enjoy the pictures.


1) “How romantic? Lady Caroline Lamb sent pubic hairs to Byron in a paper decorated with hearts and crosses.” Helen Smith 

We talked about lots of things and things: identities and things; love and things; unclaimed babies and things… but all these things have in common that they were supposed to link us with the absent one: a lover, a son or daughter, a saint or God. Object’s ability to put into contact people (or entities) that were/are miles apart is one of the many ways they became “emotional”, that is: able to make us feel something.

Helen Hills and those relics we cannot bear; Tara MacDonald and those embodied objects that can provide a sort of unexpected “relief”, despite the distance; Sally’s wonderful and fascinating love tokens; Emily Taylor’s “Fraser wedding dress”… all they examples of how objects overcome distance.

2) “Working on handicrafts linked family members through the generations” Maria Cannon


The second relevant subject, or maybe the second relevant object’s feature, is how objects do things on us.

That was Michèle Plott’s talk on The Object as Emotive plot: how objects were a relevant part of the transformation of the fiancée into a lovely spouse. Objects as emotives changing (through negotiation and self-knowledge) woman’s feeling to her husband to be in 19th century France. When we knit, polish, carve… we change things and things change us too.

3) “Are we less emotional about functional objects?” Zoe Thomas


And finally, the third and last issue: how things are saturated with meanings, values and emotions. They are not just commodities or just gifts (to use a traditional dichotomy): they can be both things at the same time. Just see Joanna Crosby on apples and orchards. Or Mark Dennis on freemasons’ material culture. Or how paper could be the carrier of words of emotion, but also the materiality of those emotions, as Helen Smith maintained. Things, objects, are more flexible, adaptable, and ductile that we think they are.

To conclude, it was a fantastic weekend, shared with wonderful people and objects, with thought-provoking presentations and a lot of job to do once at home.

Thank you Sally and Alice, again.

PS: The conference was twitted: hashtag #emotionalobjects

All the pictures were twitted for the attendees.

All the talks were recorded. You’ll be able to download the podcast soon.


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