The Material Cultures of Knowledge

Adriana Craciun
UC Riverside

This group established a UC network of the greatest concentration of U.S. scholars working in the intersections of material, visual, and textual studies in early modernity and the long eighteenth century. Scholars working in the earlier periods of 1500-1830 increasingly emphasize the shared material culture of discursive practices across modern disciplinary lines. Whether through examining print and manuscript culture, material culture, visual culture, social and physical networks, authorship and exhibitionary practices, or geographies of knowledge, the shared material dimensions of their diverse objects of study frequently take center stage in new research.

By bringing together scholars from these diverse disciplines whose lines of inquiry and objects of study are converging through the shared concern with material cultures, one can see a major theoretical shift in early modern and eighteenth-century studies (EM/C18). Speaking in distinct critical languages, and relying on different periodization and scalar models, when they converge on one shared concept or problem, scholars from these different traditions can often have more to say to each other than to their monodisciplinary counterparts. Using the notion of “travelling concepts,” and the transdisciplinary approach to shared problems favored in the sciences, this MRG cohered around concepts (e.g., archive, author, priority) that move between modern disciplines, illuminating and transforming them in the process. As Cambridge historian of science Simon Schaffer has recently argued, “the discourse of interdisciplinarity must change its historiography of Eurocentric and monolithic disciplinarity and must begin to explore the historical geography of exotic indisciplines.” Whether we conceive of these earlier formations of knowledge as predisciplines, interdisciplines, or indisciplines, their hybrid, often global genealogies are at the forefront of interest in early modern and eighteenth-century studies.