2016 “Objects of Refuge / Refuge of Objects”


Twenty-one scholars from the University of Delaware and the Winterthur Museum were invited by the Johannes Gutenberg Universität Mainz, Germany, to present their research in the international symposium, “The Refuge of Objects/ Objects of Refuge.” The symposium was be held in the city of Mainz, December 14-18, 2016. Over the previous year, the Center’s Directors have worked closely with colleagues in Mainz to develop the symposium program and helped to secure funding from German federal and state institutions to fund travel for the UD delegates.

In view of recent political events and natural catastrophes that have displaced millions and created international humanitarian crises, the theme of “Refuge” has acquired a new sense of urgency for students and teachers working in the fields related to material culture studies. Definitions dating back to the great trans-Atlantic migrations of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries have characterized “refuge” in mostly spatio-political terms as insular settings of escape or privilege, as colonial enclaves or post-national territories, or as secular or sacred retreats. Rather than rehearse the spatial premise of these terms, this collaborative symposium reflects historically, methodologically, and theoretically on the material dimensions of “refuge,” that is, on of the ways in which objects generate or confound refuge, accompany or encumber refugees, in short, express the condition of the refuge and the refugee through objects and/or as material experience.

Seeking to develop a lasting partnership with the Center for Material Culture Studies the newly founded Obama Institute for Transnational American Studies at the Universität Mainz identified the University of Delaware as a leader in material culture studies and invited faculty and graduate students to share their perspectives on the materiality of refuge across the disciplines, periods, and geographies in all the diversity of material objects involved.

Download the conference program. View the Obama Institute's conference post.