Aims, Context, and Participation

Aims and Context

This seminar will bring together a group of speakers to present and discuss their research interests and findings on the themes of art, aesthetics and function – themes that can be applied across a range of disciplines, such as archaeology, anthropology, philosophy and numismatics. While the proposed seminar’s scope is wide, the themes allow speakers to highlight the interwoven aspects of aesthetics and function in a way that will promote collaborative research and discussion.

The content of the seminar will be focusing on commonplace and everyday objects, the aesthetic choices made during their production, and the ways these choices impact on their functional lives.

The possibilities that these aesthetic choices are dictated by the politics of propaganda, inspired by oral or literary histories, influenced by rites or rituals or a reflection of individual or collective identities will be explored. Did the individuals or groups behind these objects follow aesthetic traditions or break from artistic conventions, and did such deviations from convention transform the functions of objects? A detailed insight into how various cultures incorporated these conventions and deviations into everyday objects may contrast with often more explored visual culture behind larger or rarer objects created solely for artistic or monumental purposes.

By focusing on everyday objects, researchers are able to re-fashion narratives of the past and challenge the assumptions which scholarship has constructed around extraordinary and exceptional objects. This is especially important when considering empires that contained multiple, diverse cultural groups, as well as states whose craftsmen and merchants created objects with a view to a foreign markets and tastes. We hope it might be possible to access the experience of commonplace aesthetics on a human scale in this way and consider the contribution of this habitual experience to individual and collective identities.

We hope that this different approach to aesthetics will provide a chance to bring new life to many of the commonplace objects that fill the stores of museums, and provide new perspectives on what it means for an object to be “everyday”.


This event has been specifically designed with the postgraduate, early career researcher and professional community in mind, both inside and outside the British Museum, hence its very broad remit. We are hoping to pull in papers and expertise from as many disciplines and time periods as possible, with the aim of creating a truly collaborative environment, where we can share knowledge and ideas with researchers from a diverse range of backgrounds. This event aims to provide a valuable chance for networking and cross-pollination, as well as a chance to catch up with each other’s research.

A spate of recent publications has illustrated the fact that aesthetics is currently a much discussed topic among collaborative researchers in the humanities. The Return of Aesthetics to Archaeology project, for example, is co-organised by the archaeology and philosophy departments of Durham University and explores themes relating to the way archaeologists deal with aesthetics; subjectivity for example. Recent publications such as Art and Archaeology: Collaborations, Conversations, Criticisms (Russell and Cochrane 2013) and Making: Anthropology, Archaeology, Art and Architecture (Ingold 2013) have further demonstrated the increasing willingness of archaeologists and anthropologists to collaborate with the art world and explore the presence of aesthetics in archaeological discourse beyond symbolic reasoning or typological classification.

We hope that, through this seminar, we will be able to further contribute to this discussion, and broaden it out to a wider range of academic disciplines, and we would love as many of you as possible to be involved – whether you’d like to present your research or just come along and participate in discussion.