Objects, Pathways, and Afterlives: Tracing Material Cultures in Early America

Speakers explore issues of power, materiality, labor, hybridity, recovery, and reparation in this two-day conference tracing material cultures in early America. 

Recognizing that “early” America has been contested in productive ways, topics addressed include how “early” American objects can help effect contemporary visual sovereignty as well as cultural preservation and knowledge production. These questions have new urgency as Indigenous and African diasporic histories, objects, knowledge systems, and communities have been transforming understandings of material culture. The Huntington’s Fielding Collection of early American art invites collaborative conversation about how we interpret with—and for—multiple publics in order to more thoroughly explain pathways between historical materials and contemporary Indigenous and African American artists and knowledge keepers.

Conference registration includes admission to The Huntington grounds and galleries.



9 a.m. | Registration and coffee

10 a.m. | Welcome & Remarks

Susan Juster (The Huntington)

  • Christine DeLucia (Williams College)
  • Tiya Miles (Harvard University)
  • Scott Manning Stevens (Syracuse University)
  • Jennifer Van Horn (University of Delaware)

10:30 a.m. | Keynote Dialogue

Moderator: Tiya Miles (Harvard University)

  • Martha S. Jones (Johns Hopkins University)
  • Patricia Marroquin Norby (Metropolitan Museum of Art)

Noon| Lunch

1 p.m. | Gender, Networks, and Communities

Moderator: Scott Manning Stevens (Syracuse University)

  • Caroline Wigginton (University of Mississippi)

    “Reading the Archive of Early American Gender through the Basket and the Box”
  • Aston Gonzalez (Salisbury University)

    “Objects as Archives: Opening the Harriet Hayden Albums”
  • Kai Pyle (University of Illinois)

    “The Bag My Kunsi Made: Representing Enslaved Women’s Material Culture in Early Wisconsin History”
  • Allyson LaForge (Brown University)

    “Tracing Material Culture Histories: An Anishinaabe Miniature Mokuk within Networks of Indigenous Resistance”

3 p.m. | Omohundro Institute Publishing and Mentorship Event for Emerging Scholars

Moderators: Catherine Kelly (Omohundro Institute), Joshua Piker (William & Mary)


9 a.m. | Registration and coffee

9:30 a.m. | Session 2: Material Agencies, Power, and Resistance

Moderator: Jennifer Van Horn (University of Delaware)

  • Matt Clavin (University of Houston)

    “‘The negroes were well armed’: Guns, Knives, and the Materiality of Slave Resistance”

  • Mikayla Harden (University of Delaware)

    “Children, Captivity, and Black Material Culture Studies”

  • Steffi Dippold (Kansas State University)

    “Books Have Bindings: Tracing the Hidden Histories of Colonial Leathers”

  • Christine Garnier (University of Southern California)

    “Diplomacy, Trade, and Relations: Reflections on the American Fur Company Medal (c. 1832)”

11:30 a.m. | Lunch

12:30 p.m. | Session 3: Place, Environment, and Materiality

Moderator: Christine DeLucia (Williams College)

  • Mark Mattes (University of Louisville)

    “Trees and War Clubs: Indigenous Materialities and Historical Memory”

  • Perri Meldon (Boston University)

    “Muck as Material Culture: Canals, Enslaved Labor, and Public History in the Mid-Atlantic”

  • Buck Woodard (American University); Elizabeth Bollwerk, (DAACS, Monticello); Adriana Greci Green (Fralin Museum of Art, University of Virginia)

    “Native Textiles of the Chesapeake”

2 p.m. | Break: We encourage attendees to take time to relax and enjoy the gardens.

2:30 p.m. | Curator-led Tours of "Borderlands" and "Becoming America: Highlights from the Jonathan and Karin Fielding Collection" The Huntington Art Museum

Led by: Dennis Carr, Virginia Steele Scott Chief Curator of American Art and Lauren Cross, Gail-Oxford Associate Curator of American Decorative Arts

4:45 p.m. | Wrap-up

Funding provided by The William French Smith Endowment, the USC-Huntington Early Modern Studies Institute, the Charles Warren Center for Studies in American History at Harvard University, and the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture.