Understanding Material Loss intends to examine the usefulness of ‘loss’ as an analytical framework across different disciplines and subfields, but principally within historical studies. Loss and absence are slowly being recognized as significant factors in historical processes, particularly in relation to the material world. Archaeologists, anthropologists, philosophers, literary scholars, sociologists and historians have increasingly come to understand the material world as an active and shaping force. Nevertheless, while significant, such studies have consistently privileged material presence as the basis for understanding how and why the material world has played an increasingly important role in the lives of humans. In contrast, Understanding Material Loss suggests that instances of absence, as much as presence, provide important means of understanding how and why the material world has shaped human life and historical processes.
Speculative and exploratory in nature, Understanding Material Loss asserts that in a period marked by ecological destruction, but also economic austerity, large-scale migration, and increasing resource scarcity, it is important that historians work to better understand the ways in which humans have responded to material loss in the past and how such responses have shaped change. Understanding Material Loss asks: how have humans historically responded to material loss and how has this shaped historical processes? The conference will bring together a range of scholars in an effort more to begin to explore and frame a problem, than provide definitive answers.