CFP: The Lives of Objects

The Oxford Centre for Life-Writing (OCLW) exists to encourage practice and
research in life-writing in all forms, from biography to autobiography,
diaries to blogs, letters to memoirs. It is directed by renowned
biographer Professor Hermione Lee, associate-directed by eminent colonial
scholar Professor Elleke Boehmer, administered by literary historian Dr
Rachel Hewitt, and is based at Wolfson College, Oxford. From 20-22
September 2013, OCLW will hold its first major triennial conference, on
the subject of ‘The Lives of Objects’.
Submit Abstract by 31 January 2013
The application of life-writing to objects lies at the heart of many
recently published biographies, memoirs and histories, including Neil
MacGregor’s A History of the World in 100 Objects (2010), Edmund De Waal’s
The Hare with Amber Eyes: A Hidden Inheritance (2010), Steven Connor’s
Paraphernalia: The Curious Lives of Magical Things (2011), Mark
Kurlansky’s Salt: A World History (2003) and Lorraine Daston’s Biographies
of Scientific Objects (2000). Biographies of objects raise important
methodological issues pertinent to life-writing, regarding narrative,
structure and chronology; the representation of change and improvement;
and the influence of objects in human lives, communities and material
history. The study of ‘object biographies’ continues to generate fruitful
areas of academic research, including Bill Brown’s work on ‘thing theory’
(2001); Chris Gosden and Yvonne Marshall’s 1999 study of ‘the cultural
biography of objects’ (in relation to archaeology); and explorations of
value and exchange of objects in cultural and material history, such as
the essays included in Arjun Appadurai’s edited volume The Social Life of
Things: Commodities in Cultural Perspective (1986).

The ‘Lives of Objects’ conference will be an interdisciplinary,
international event, inviting 20-minute papers from a wide range of
backgrounds. Papers may offer biographical accounts of particular objects
(including, but not limited to, portraits, sculpture, scientific
instruments, archaeological finds, domestic artefacts and items of
clothing). The organisers also invite papers that reflect on the
methodology of object biographies or outline existent projects concerned
with objects’ lives; papers considering the influence of life-writing on
material history and/or archaeology; papers exploring the relationship
between curating and auto/biography; the history of the book; the history
of museums; and any other facets of the conference theme. The organisers
also invite submissions for an informal workshop, in which delegates will
present and discuss the lives and meanings of individual objects.
The conference will comprise panels of 20-minute papers, four plenary
lectures, visits to the Ashmolean Museum and other museums in Oxford, and
the objects workshop. A number of postgraduate bursaries will be provided
to help contribute towards the costs of the conference registration,
accommodation and travel (tbc).
Confirmed plenary speakers include Jenny Uglow and Edmund De Waal.
Please submit a 200-word abstract of your conference paper or poster
session (making it clear which format your submission will take) by 31
January 2013 to OCLW’s Research Fellow and Administrator, Dr Rachel Hewitt
( Please provide details of your contact
details and institutional affiliation, if any. You will be informed by
email by Friday 15 March 2013 whether your paper or submission has been
accepted. Registration for the conference will open shortly afterwards.

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