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CODE 108637
SEMESTER 1° Semester


The general - historical, archaeological and anthropological - theme of the course is that of the construction of the material world: the relationships between people and things (knowledge, practices, ritual, ceremonial, ...) and between things and things (new materialisms); the processes that produce things; what the study of objects tells us (life cycle and biographies of objects, objects in history, history of objects). The concept of the object will be explored in a broad and wide sense (artefacts, ecofacts, spaces and landscapes).




The course has three objectives: reconstructing the methodological and disciplinary paths that led to the definition of the concept of “history of material culture” as an interdisciplinary area of research; exploring the different ways in which this concept has been variously used in archaeology, history and beyond; proposing a critical investigation on the evolution of the concept of material culture, from the material to the cultural dimension, from production to consumption.


Starting from the concept of the history of material culture as an interdisciplinary area of research that tackles, through different disciplinary and conceptual paths, the study of the production, circulation and consumption of artefacts, the course has three main objectives.

- to build the critical tools to explore different approaches to the historical and archaeological study of the world of objects and the relationships between people and things and between things and things

- to acquire the theoretical-methodological tools to identify, analyse and understand the processes that produce things

- to critically investigate the evolution of the concept of material culture in history, archaeology, anthropology

Students will learn to understand the processes that produce things, through the analysis of objects' economic, social and cultural history (and thus also to use things as indicators and traces of processes). They will also learn a method for critical analysis of historiographical literature and material and written sources, for critical reading of texts or documents and for communicating research results at a scientific level. Upon completion of the course, students will be introduced to the subject of material culture analysis. They will acquire knowledge of historiographical theories, concepts and methods. Students should be able to present and critically discuss the proposed and/or recommended texts for self-study.



There are no particular prerequisites.

The course is aimed at all Master students in the School of Humanities.


Teaching will be seminar-based: attendance is strongly recommended. The course structure includes reading and discussing texts and documents in class and in an online Forum . There will be ongoing tests with written exercises in class and/or at home. Based on the bibliography indicated and other texts that will be proposed during the course, students will have the opportunity to build individual study paths.

Lessons will take place in presence. Attendance, although not compulsory, is recommended. The lecturer, at the specific request of a student (by e-mail), may allow him/her to remotely follow classes via “Teams” platform.

A part of the teaching materials will be available to students through the AulaWeb.


The course programme focuses on some key contents: the concept of the history of material culture; the biography and life cycles of objects; objects as historical sources and the patrimonialisation of objects. They will be presented with the paths and discussions built around the concepts of material culture and history of material culture (with a particular focus on the 70’s) and it will be explored in depth how these concepts have been used inside different disciplines. In particular, the following themes will be explored:

- the different approaches to the historical and historical-archaeological study of the world of objects and the relations between people and things, starting from the discussions that led to the affirmation in Italy of the concept of the history of material culture

- a discussion and in-depth study of the processes that produce things, investigating through texts and readings the following themes: the history of objects and objects in history, the biography of objects, life cycles of objects, patrimonialisation of objects (and spaces)

- a critical investigation of the evolution of the concept of material culture in history, archaeology and anthropology, with a particular reference to the increasing weight that things and materiality have in historical, archaeological and anthropological research (materialistic turn, global history of objects, new materialisms).

During the course, and based on in-class discussions, a specific theme may be chosen to be explored in a monographic manner (e.g. uses, re-uses and re-functionalisation: the waste cycle in history; objects in motion: the paths of animals and things; ritualization and patrimonialisation, etc.).

The programme for attending and non-attending students is the same. For non-attending students, a specific path will be created through readings and texts of their choice.


The recommended texts will be made available to students (available in the library or in pdf format on Aulaweb).

The list of texts may be subject to change. Therefore, it's strongly recommended to delay their purchase or loan until after the start of the lectures and the presentation of the programme by the lecturer.

During the introductory lessons, the texts to be read and commented on and the topics explored in depth during the year will be discussed and agreed upon, and then chosen among the ones listed below.


Recommended texts will be made available to students. All essential texts will be uploaded to aulaweb or available in open access. All essays from "Quaderni storici" and from "World Archaeology" can be found on Jstor; cited volumes are accessible in the library. During the introductory lectures, the topics to be discussed will be selected from those listed below.

1. Introductory texts

- Osvaldo Raggio, Oggetti nella storia. Perché la storiografia è importante (tra storia e archeologia), in "Quaderni storici", 159 (2018), pp. 863-78.

- Storia della cultura materiale in tempo di COVID-19, a cura di Osvaldo Raggio e Anna Maria Stagno, Firenze, All'Insegna del Giglio, 2020 (in biblioteca e in accesso aperto sul sito dell’editore).

2.History of an history of material culture

2.1 Debates during 1970's

- Archeologia Medievale 1974, Editoriale, «Archeologia Medievale», I, pp. 3-5.

- Archeologia Medievale 1975, Cinque punti per un dibattito, «Archeologia Medievale», II, pp. 5-7.

- Archeologia medievale 1976, Una rifondazione dell’archeologia post-classica: la storia della cultura materiale, «Archeologia Medievale», III, pp. 7-24

2.2. Materialism and new materialisms

Tim Ingold, Materials against materiality, Archaeological Dialogues / Volume 14 / Issue 01 / June 2007, pp 1 – 16.

AHR conversation: Historians and the study of material culture, in "American Historical Review", 2009.

Alfredo González Ruibal, Time to destroy. An archaeology of supermodernity, «Current Anthropology», 49(2), 2008, pp. 247-279.

Chris Witmore (ed.), Archaeology and the New Materialisms, «Journal of Contemporary Archaeology», 1.2,  20214, pp. 203-279.

Parte I - Biography of the objects, social history of objects, and objects in history

3. The priority of relationships and different perspectives on material culture: Arjun Appadurai and Edoardo Grendi

3.1. The social life of things: a cultural perspective on exchange commodities, A. Appadurai's volume

- Arjun Appadurai,  Introductions in Arjun Appadurai, The Social Life of Things: Commodities in Cultural Perspective, London 1988 (also the preface of Sarah Farris should be read). English version available in Aulaweb. 

- Igor Kopytoff, The cultural biography of things: commodization as process, in A. Appadurai, The Social Life of Things: Commodities in Cultural Perspective, London 1988, pp. 64-91 (anche nella versione italiana circolante).

3.2 The priority of relationships: material culture, objects, and actions in historical microanalysis or the language of possession and the construction of jurisdictions

- Chris Wickham, Edoardo Grendi e la cultura materiale, «Quaderni Storici», 110, 2022, pp. 323-332.

- Renata Ago, Cambio di prospettiva: dagli attori alle azioni e viceversa, in Jacques Revel (a cura di), Giochi di scala: la microstoria alla prova dell'esperienza, Viella, 2006, pp. 239-250.

4. Social history of objects and objects in history

- Giovanni Levi, Il consumo a Venezia. Una fonte contabile, in Prima lezione di metodo storico, a cura di Sergio Luzzato Bari, 2015, pp. 51-68.

- Edoardo Grendi, Ipotesi per lo studio della socialità nobiliare genovese in età moderna, “Quaderni storici”,102,1999, pp.733-747.

- Osvaldo Raggio, Invito a nozze. Condivisione e competizione, in Roberta Cevasco, Robert Hearn, Valentina Pescini (a cura di), Situating fooways and foodscapes. Dalla tavola al terreno, Genova, 2023, pp. 25-44.

5. Biographies and life cycles of the objects: between history and anthropology

- Igor Kopytoff, The cultural biography of things: commodization as process, in A. Appadurai, The Social Life of Things: Commodities in Cultural Perspective, London 1988, pp. 64-91 (dovreste averlo in versione italiana).

- Chris Gosden and Yvonne Marshall, The Cultural Biography of Objects, in Id.  (eds.), The Cultural Biography of Objects, “World Archaeology”, 31-2, 1999, pp. 169-178.

- Roberta Gilchrist, Archaeological Biographies: Realizing Human Lifecycles, -Courses and -Histories, in Ead. (ed.), Human Lifecycles, “World Archaeology”, 31-2, 2000, pp. 325-328.

6. The processes that produce things: entaglement and entrapment (or we transform objects and objects transform us): Ian Hodder

- Ian Hodder, Human-thing entanglement: towards an integrated archaeological perspective, «Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute», (N.S.) 17, 2011 pp. 154-177.

Part II - History of the objects and of the space

7. The close relationship between objects and things or the language of possession

- Osvaldo Raggio, Immagini e verità. Pratiche sociali, fatti giuridici e tecniche cartografiche, in Simona Cerutti, Gianna Pomata (a cura di), Fatti: storie dell'evidenza empirica, «Quaderni Storici», 108, 2001, pp. 843-876.

- Archeologia rurale, in Storia della cultura materiale in tempo di COVID-19, a cura di O. Raggio e A. M. Stagno, Firenze, All'Insegna del Giglio, 2020, pp. 53-72.

8. The heritagisation as a process: uses of the heritage and networks of relationships

- Laurejane Smith, Uses of Heritage, Londra e New York, Routledge, 2006 (Introduzione, cap. 1 e 2).

- Tim Ingold 1993, The Temporality of the Landscape, «World archaeology», 25, pp. 152-174

- Davide C. Harvey, Heritage pasts and heritage presents: Temporality, meaning and the scope of heritage studies, “International Journal of Heritage Studies”, 7 (2001), pp. 319–338.

9. Heritagisation of objects and spaces

- Massimo Quaini, Diego Moreno, Roberta Cevasco, Fra utopie ed eterotopie: quale spazio per una ‘storia territorialista’ della montagna? «Scienze del Territorio» 4, 2016, pp. 34-43.

- Anna Maria Stagno, Giulia Bizzarri, Caterina Piu, Carbonaie e altri oggetti ‘puntiformi’ del paesaggio: tra attività produttive, diritti di accesso e patrimonio fragile, in A. Frisetti (a cura di), Montanari di ieri e di oggi. Vivere, costruire e produrre sugli Appennini, Cerro al Volturno, 2022, pp. 13-36.

Part III - Stories of objects (in-depth study by choice)

Preparation should be completed by reading at least one of the volumes indicated below and through the elaboration of an individual work on a topic of your choice.

- Arjun Appadurai, La vita sociale delle cose: una prospettiva culturale sulle merci di scambio, Meltemi, 2021 (v.o. 1988).

- Renata Ago, Il gusto delle cose. Una storia degli oggetti nella Roma del Seicento, Roma, Donzelli, 2006.

- Raffaella Sarti, Vita di casa. Abitare, mangiare, vestire nell'Europa moderna, Roma-Bari, Laterza, 1999.

- Enrica Asquer, La rivoluzione candida. Storia sociale della lavatrice in Italia (1945-1970), Roma, Carocci, 2007.

- Natalie Zemon Davis, Il dono. Vita familiare e relazioni pubbliche nella Francia del Cinquecento, Milano, Feltrinelli, 2002.

During the lectures, it will be possible to explore some of the following topics at your choice:

Objects in motion: global history of objects; From the life cycles of objects to the global history of things (between anthropology, archaeology and history); Collecting and its surroundings; Collecting and recontextualizations of objects: between ethnographic  and peasant museums; Consumption and objects in diachrony; Methodologies and sources for a deep history of consumption; Consumption, luxury and gender history; The power of images: Iconoclasm; Rural history and objects; Appropriation, enclosures but also how materiality generates things; History of a history of material culture from a global perspective; The jurisdictional significance of objects and things: devotional rituals between history and archaeology; Houses and ways of building and dwelling; Things as commodities and things as gifts: from archaic to contemporary societies

Further bibliographical indications and materials relating to the research and cases discussed will be provided in class and, when possible, uploaded to the Aulaweb.




Lessons will start on Wednesday 2 October

Class schedule

The timetable for this course is available here: Portale EasyAcademy



The course is seminar-based. There will be in-progress exercises on individual case studies and readings that will be discussed and will contribute to the final assessment. The assessment of the written exercises will be part of the final assessment with an oral assessment. Written exercises are valid for the academic year of the course


The oral examination and the discussion of the in-progress written exercises will verify the achievement of the learning outcomes. The main assessment parameters are the mastery of the topics covered, the quality of the exposition and vocabulary used, both in the oral communication and in the written tests, and the capacity for critical and comparative reasoning.


Agenda 2030 - Sustainable Development Goals

Agenda 2030 - Sustainable Development Goals
Gender equality
Gender equality
Decent work and economic growth
Decent work and economic growth
Reduce inequality
Reduce inequality
Life on land
Life on land