Museum objects in movement

Museum objects in movement

Project in collaboration with the Department of Geography and the Centre for the GeoHumanities, Royal Holloway, University of London (Prof Felix Driver, Dr Caroline Cornish)

Despite their illusory condition of immobility, museum objects represent the meeting point of a wide bundle of itineraries, each of which has enriched them in meaning and, therefore, narrative potential through time. The mobility perspective allows us to read these itineraries and circulations as main components of the value of objects and to better understand the complexity of the role they play for their heritage communities.

Among the numerous kinds of movement that can involve museum objects, the basic one concerns the trajectories objects have followed from their production places to the collection seat itself, their main stages, the actors involved, the reasons behind them, the techniques, materials, and representations. Mobility is a defining characteristic in the life and history of objects. The point of origin of an object’s trajectory, however, coincides with the destination point of the trajectories traced by the commodity chains of its material components, and connections between unexpectedly distant places are revealed, together with the historical roots of contemporary topics like the object’s environmental and social sustainability.

Objects also trace spatial trajectories in relation to their use in different practices and places. Thinking of science and geography museum collections, for instance, instruments might have known a mobile outdoor life related to fieldwork-based research, either in specific location or widely spread. In such a context, the reconstruction of the instruments’ itineraries might allow us to compose different heritage expressions into a coherent mobility-based system, both tangible (instruments, photographs, documents, maps, etc.) and intangible (research output, practices of knowledge construction and research documentation, teaching habits, etc.). Moreover, focusing on the life of plants, botanical, and ethnobotanical collections in terms of the mobility/immobility turn means to look at their “life cycle” through a different conceptual and theoretical lens.

The meaning of objects is also frequently affected by shifts and changes. Although this can appear a metaphorical application of the mobility paradigm, such a shift in the meaning of an object is often related to its physical transfer and the consequent change of its perception and/or use by new subjects. Vice versa, sometimes the transfer itself represents the evidence of a change of significance for the person or community dealing with it.

The Covid-19 emergency is multiplying the number of museum objects involved in another kind of mobility: digitized and shared online, narrated through virtual tours and podcasts, they are moving creatively from Museum platforms to people’s digital devices and therefore potentially towards everywhere and everyone. Tracing their movements along the ramifications of the WWW would represent an extremely interesting investigation under several points of view.

Thanks to the Museum of Geography and the Botanical Garden of the University of Padova, we bring together different traditions and fields of studies, such as museum studies, history of science, historical geography, and material culture history. In our research project we aim at deepening the multilayered concepts connected to the idea of museum objects’ mobility. On the one hand, we follow different “things” through their uses, itineraries, trajectories and circulations in space and time. On the other hand, we focus on the theoretical implications connected to the general idea of mobility of objects in museums.

Coordinated by:

Elena Canadelli

Chiara Gallanti

Mauro Varotto

Mobility in Historical Perspective: Oxford-Berlin-Padua Research Network

Mobility in Historical Perspective: Oxford-Berlin-Padua Research Network

Mobility in Historical Perspective is a networking project focused on the theme of mobility from a historical perspective. Students and researchers from the Universities of Oxford, Berlin (Humboldt and Freie Universität) and Padua.

are part of this network, whose participants meet once a year in one of the partner cities to discuss the various facets of the theme of mobility in history (human mobility, intellectual mobility and economic mobility).

Mobility in Historical Perspective provides opportunities to discuss and share knowledge among scholars. It is indeed in international workshops that innovative perspectives on traditional research issues usually arise by challenging established points of view and methodologies.

By adopting a long-term chronological approach, the project shows that mobility has always been a central feature of human life. Moreover, it gives the opportunity to look at the phenomenon of mobility from different perspectives, comparing various historiographical approaches and methods depending not just on the individual formation and preference of the scholars, but also on their affiliation. The meetings of the three academic communities, indeed, demonstrate that there are different angles from which mobility studies can be approached and the project gives everyone the opportunity to get acquainted with the different scholarly traditions of the three countries. At the same time, new approaches which emerge in such environments affect the universities involved as a whole, enhancing the development of new research cultures inside the university itself, thus facilitating academic renewal.


Coordinated at DiSSGeA by:

Andrea Caracausi

Maria Cristina La Rocca

Matteo Millan

Mobility from a cultural perspective: connections between cultural histories, cultural geographies and literary studies

Mobility from a cultural perspective: connections between cultural histories, cultural geographies and literary studies

Project in collaboration with the CRPM (Centre de recherches pluridisciplinaires et multilingues), Université Paris Nanterre, projet ‘Espace, Déplacement, Mobilité’ (responsables Adrien Frenay and Lucia Quaquarelli)

In their recent delineation of the new subfield of Mobility and the Humanities, Merriman and Pearce (2017) focused on the specific contributions that a humanistic perspective can bring to the well-established field of mobility studies. First, the Humanities allow the exploration of the experience of mobility in addition to the factual movement of people, objects and ideas; second, they introduce a historical perspective, stressing the temporal dimension of mobility processes and practices; third, the Humanities work with texts and representations; forth, they are particularly capable of generating theoretical possibilities for the interpretation of mobility in its nuanced variations. Merriman and Pearce (2017) also underline the need to rediscover the alternative genealogies that offered early or implicit theorisation of mobility in the humanistic field. This project uses what Bal (2002) called a ‘concept based methodology’ to study ‘travelling concepts’ in the Humanities to propose a mobility-based methodology for fields such as cultural history, cultural geography and literary studies (but also visual and classical studies). The temporal frame extends from antiquity to the present and to possible futures. The mobility of people and objects, of ideas and cultural products, as well the contexts and the infrastructures hosting these mobilities may be captured from research angles that help not only to explore the meanings of movement but also to reimagine mobility studies from a humanistic and cultural perspective. How does the evocative concept of mobility impact our intellectual creativity? What is the potential of this concept to generate transdisciplinary and transmedial nexuses? If movement becomes mobility when it ceases to be factual evidence and becomes practice and discourse, experience and meaning (Cresswell, 2010), what are the different nuances of mobility in past, present and future times?

The project includes a Memorandum of Understanding signed by the University of Padova and the CRPM at the Université Paris Nanterre, networking activities, meetings and seminars, a joint conference, and the publication of an edited collection.

Coordinated at DiSSGeA by:

Tania Rossetto

Carlotta Sorba

Giada Peterle

Communities in the Early Middle Ages

Communities in the Early Middle Ages

Project in partnership with ECOLE FRANÇAISE DE ROME (COMMUNAUTES. À la recherche des communautés du Haut Moyen Âge : formes, pratiques, interactions - VIe-XIe siècles; P.I. Geneviève Buhrer Thierry, Université Paris 1 Panthéon Sorbonne and Maria Cristina La Rocca, Università di Padova, DISSGeA)

“Communities in the Early Middle Ages” is a five-years research project financed by the Ecole Française de Rome (2018-2022). It focuses its attention on small communities that are based on common practices on a local or regional scale, looking for their constituent elements. The exogenous notion of community makes it possible to orient our research not towards its essence, but towards the modalities of its implementation (i. e. through the lived space, collective memories, circulation and mobility through space) and to assess if the expression of its identity is conscious or if it is instead created or manipulated by an outside agent (i.e. group of people paying the same tax, or having to fight together).

Recent historiography reveals two main strands of research: the first one is interested in identifying the formation of religious communities within society; the second is interested in the process of  the institutionalization of communities. If communities never represent moral persons before the 12th century, nevertheless certain historians do not hesitate to define communities certain villages or group of villages from the Early Middle Ages, in relation to the territory and the emergence of the seigneurial lordship. W. Davies uses the concept of community territory to emphasize the fact that peasant ownership is not a series of isolates plots but constitutes a network of interrelations.

The scientific interest of such a study is based on the discussion of concepts from the social sciences such as the flexible notion of community of practice (E. Wenger): the members of a community are gradually trained through their participation more and more complete with the group activities. Their interactions with experienced members gradually transform them into full members, capable in turn of forming new members. We will also consider the modes of construction but also of dissolution/destruction of communities: construction by the norm, by processes of exclusion and inclusion, by the constitution of a hierarchy. Finally, we will tackle the crucial question of ideal communities: the study of the discourses that legitimize the community will shed light on the way it represents itself, reproduces itself, transmits its own memory and guides the construction of the identities of the subjects that compose it.

The project has brought together several conferences, which are currently being published by Brepols editions (Collection Haut Moyen Age).

Participants at Dissgea:

Maria Cristina La Rocca (P.I.)

Gianmarco De Angelis

Giulia Zornetta

The march of General Sherman’s armies through South Carolina (1865)

The march of General Sherman’s armies through South Carolina (1865)

The research is conducted in collaboration with the Department of Geography at the University of South Carolina (USC)-Columbia with aims to develop a WebGIS in collaboration with the Center for Digital Humanities at USC.

General William T. Sherman’s armies visit to Georgia and South Carolina during the American Civil War is well-known throughout the Southern states. His march is remembered primarily through the plundering and devastation by his five armies in Sherman’s quest to end the war. What has been poorly investigated is the relationships between the individual paths of the armies and the environment. This geohistorical research aims to create a detailed GIS reconstruction of the individual routes of the armies in relation to 1) existing transportation routes at the time of the Civil War, 2) the wetlands environment and 3) episodic meteorological events. Comparisons of the existing transportation routes and routes the armies traversed as strategic choices are conducted.

The research methods includes both qualitative and quantitative analysis of data gathered from different sources – historical maps, memoirs, newspapers, diaries, photos and field surveys

Coordinated at DiSSGeA by: Silvia E. Piovan