Senses and Material Culture in Early Modern Asia

Studies of material culture tend to focus on a western and contemporary context. As for the study of the senses, due to the restriction of resources, existing scholarship mostly discusses the contemporary era when multimedia comprehensively merged into daily life and began producing studiable artifacts. Nonetheless, in early modern Asia, the training, appreciation, and employment of the senses via material objects was important and of great variety, and it is through objects and the senses that we are able to overcome the time/space gap and stay "in touch" with the early modern period. Objects as material legacies are powerful proxies connecting contemporary researchers to the early modern era, while attention to the senses, as biologically-based shared knowledge, can cross cultures to provide key insights about human experience. This workshop uses the time and setting of early modern Asian to explore more possibilities for the study of senses and material culture.

In this workshop, we hope to study senses in the early modern period not only in representation, but more importantly as a self-contained entity that holds a specific position in material practice and human experience. We want to ask the following questions: How were the senses, as an abstract concept, represented in concrete material objects? How did different senses commingle to provide the effect of synesthesia as well as occupying different hierarchical status? How did the recognition of senses influence and construct the desire for material objects? How were identities built upon the possessing of material goods and mastering of senses? And how did time and space, materialized in objects, change the concept of the senses? Through pondering these questions, we are looking for a new way of treating senses and material culture especially in early modern Asia which will lead us to a model similar or different from the established Western model and the contemporary framework.


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