Call for Abstracts: Understanding Material Loss Across Time and Space

October 14, 2016


The Understanding Material Loss Conference will take place at the University of Birmingham, UK, 17-18 February and intends to examine the usefulness of ‘loss’ as an analytical framework across different disciplines and subfields, but principally within historical studies.

Understanding Material Loss Conference seeks to uncover the multiple practices and institutions that emerged in response to different forms of material loss in the past and asks, how has loss shaped (and been shaped by) processes of acquisition, possession, stability, abundance and permanence? By doing so it seeks to gauge the extent to which ‘loss’ can be used as an organizing framework of study across different disciplines and subfields. Understanding Material Loss seeks papers from across a variety of time periods and geographies. Although open and speculative in nature, this conference will focus on three broad topics within the wider rubric of loss, in order to facilitate meaningful conversations and exchanges.

Using Materials

  • How has the ‘loss’ of particular materials affected scientific practice, manufacturing, architectural design or development in the past?
  • How have humans responded to the partial loss or decay of materials?
  • How have ‘lost’ skills or knowledge affected the use of materials?
  • How have humans re-appropriated or recycled seemingly damaged or obsolete materials?

Possessing Objects

  • How have humans sought to maintain and mark the ownership of objects?
  • How has the loss of possessions and property affected human mobility and constructions of identity?
  • How have communities historically responded to the loss of particular objects? When and why have they sought to stave off the loss of things?
  • Where, when and how have cultures of repair flourished?
  • How has the loss of possessions and property (or the potential for loss) affected processes of production, consumption or financial stability?

Inhabiting Sites and Spaces

  • When and why have particular sites or buildings been understood as destroyed or obsolete?
  • How have past societies responded to the loss of particular sites?
  • When and how have landscapes been actively purged of symbols and sites?
  • How have past societies worked to rebuild or reclaim particular sites?
  • What strategies did past societies develop to ensure the resilience of certain structures?


Please send proposals (250 words max per paper) for papers and panels to conference organizer Kate Smith ([email protected]) by Friday 14 October 2016. Papers should not exceed 20 minutes. Roundtable panels featuring 5-6 papers of 10 minutes each or other innovative formats are encouraged.

Please visit the conference website for additional details.