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Material culture is often described as a “survival” of the past in the present, be it in the form of evocative fragments or as “traces” enlisted in historical inquiry. The implicit preoccupation with our relationship with the past has diverted attention from the relationship which past actors had with their future and the ways in which they relied on material culture to shape that relationship. If the future-oriented perceptions of past actors are at all considered, they tend to be rationalized in terms of social and economic interests that are external to the material engagements underpinning cultural phenomena. In this symposium an international panel of material culture specialists will explore how imagination and planning towards the future affect relationships between objects and people. How did the future possibilities envisaged by past actors condition the ways in which they created, perceived, transformed, stored, and discarded objects? What are the broader methodological implications of understanding artefacts as starting-points for, rather than outcomes of, cultural practices? To what extent can material culture be understood to embody the desired life-paths of human and non-human agents?

Thursday, April 7, 1:30–4 pm
Friday, April 8, 9:30 am–6:40 pm
38 West 86 Street, Lecture Hall / Zoom

This event is open to the BGC community and invited guests.

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Thursday, April 7

Peter N. Miller
Bard Graduate Center

Caspar Meyer
Bard Graduate Center

Miguel John Versluys
Leiden University
Human-Thing Entanglement and the Imagination of the Future: The Hellenistic-Roman Momentum

Vlad Glaveanu
Webster University Geneva
Materiality and Possibility: The Power of the Imagination

Friday, April 8

Joanna Sofaer
University of Southampton
Heritage and Wellbeing: Why the Future Needs the Past

Carl Knappett
University of Toronto
Infrastructural Preconditions and Imagining Newness (in Late Prehistory)

David Fontijn
Leiden University
How Objects and Materials Shape the Human World

Caspar Meyer
Bard Graduate Center
Rhythms of the Future: Coupling Seasonal Movement with Microbial Growth in Eurasian Pastoralism

Astrid Van Oyen
Cornell University
Diffracting Roman Future-Making: Four Modes of Material Mediation

Martin Pitts
University of Exeter
Long-Term Material Change and the Power of Genealogy

Eva Mol
University College London
The Future is Ancient: Teleological Designs in the Legendary Objects that Made Rome Possible

David Wengrow
University College London
On Image Systems in Human History

For those joining us on West 86th Street, Bard Graduate Center requires proof of vaccination and photo identification to enter the building. Guests are required to wear masks regardless of vaccination status.

For those joining us on Zoom, a link will be circulated in advance of the conference.