Today, feathers are an extravagant accessory in fashion; 500 years ago, however, they were used to constitute culture, artistry, good health and even courage in battle. This unlikely material is now part of a project that promises to tell us more not only about what happened in the past, but also about how it felt to be there.
One man’s quest to create a library of everything, 500 years before Google Books was conceived, foreshadowed the challenges of ‘big data’ and our reliance on search algorithms to make sense of it all.
Rustic figurines of a resigned-looking Virgin clutching her child may have no obvious literary or artistic merit to us today. But understanding what they meant to the spiritual lives of their owners can offer a glimpse of the human hopes and fears that people have, for centuries, invested in inanimate objects.
Things structure our lives. They enrich us, embellish us and express our hopes and fears. Here, to introduce a month-long focus on research on material culture, four academics from different disciplines explain why understanding how we interact with our material world can reveal unparalleled insights into what it is to be human.
Every object in the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology tells not just one but many stories. The Museum’s collections chronicle two million years of human history, revealing the diversity of human life over millennia and the ongoing dynamism of world cultures in the present. Many individual artefacts reflect histories and cultures that are contested.
The journals and scrapbooks of Pierre de L’Estoile have for generations provided a vivid picture of France in a time of religious upheaval. Now Cambridge historian Tom Hamilton has written the first book devoted to the life of L’Estoile as a diarist, collector and man about town.
A chance discovery in the British Library has led to the discovery and reproduction of the earliest-known children’s adaptation of one of Japan’s greatest works of literature.
When Reverend Kenred Smith captured moments of life in the Congo over 120 years ago, he couldn’t have imagined that the photos – now in Cambridge's Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology – would be chosen by a Congolese community to help them remember a country that many of them had fled.
The Enawenê-nawê people of the Amazon rainforest make beautifully engineered fishing dams. Living alongside this indigenous community, Dr Chloe Nahum-Claudel observed how the act of trapping fish shapes their minds, bodies and relationships. The proximity of life and death brings human vulnerability sharply into focus.