The Material Culture of Empire

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


Historians of empire have paid increasing attention to the material world over the past thirty years. During this time, a diverse and interdisciplinary field has developed with scholars drawing on a multitude of sources, methodologies, and theoretical approaches to understand what material culture can tell us about the workings of slavery, imperialism and colonialism. Focusing primarily on the historiography of the British empire, this essay offers a brief introduction to the subject. It begins by explaining the genealogy of methodologies used to study material culture. It then offers an overview of some of the topics examined by historians of empire who use material culture approaches. These include (but are not limited to): cross-cultural encounters, diplomacy and gift exchange; trade, labour and consumption; the home; collecting; identity and knowledge formation; museums; and military violence and looting. It concludes with an overview of the current state of the field, focusing on recent discussions about decolonization and restitution.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationRoutledge Historical Resources
Number of pages17
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2023

Publication series

NameRoutledge Historical Resources: Empire


  • Empire
  • Material culture
  • Slavery
  • Collecting
  • Gift Exchange


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