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Object Literacy

Object Literacy
Research through Epigraphy and Inscriptions in Chinese Art History

3 Workshops: 18 December and 2 further dates in March and mid May 2018

A CHASE Cohort Development Fund doctoral training programme for 2017-18 comprising three one-day workshops held at SOAS University of London and the Victoria & Albert Museum, British Museum and British Library, led by Shane McCausland (SOAS), Wenny Teo (Courtauld Institute of Art) and Stacey Pierson (SOAS)

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Inscriptions on aesthetic objects from China may be difficult to read and interpret even for seasoned researchers in art history, hence they sometimes remain the preserve of specialist epigraphers. The aim of this training is to build the capacity of participants to employ inscriptions on objects of art and material culture as historical evidence, through a rich introduction to epigraphy—specifically, to the historical framework for the addition, positioning and textual content of inscriptions as well as appraisal of the significance of stylistic references and graphic modes employed. This involves study of the diverse contexts in which inscriptions appear on art objects, as well as case studies of how to read and interpret inscriptions on standard pictorial and decorative art objects. There will be some consideration of early writing but the main emphasis is on aesthetic inscriptions from medieval to modern China, including examples tendered for study by the participants themselves. This training is not just about how to manage sometimes complex examples of epigraphic writing as resources, but also an exercise in developing ʻobject literacyʼ—the ability to read aesthetic objects as cultural forms which often bear textual inscriptions—through the transfer of knowledge by specialists, building skills and developing problem-solving techniques for transcription and translation.

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Target audience - includes UK-based doctoral researchers who use inscriptions on artworks produced in China as primary sources but also early career researchers, curators or postdocs and potentially any advanced MA students. The training is geared toward participants working in art history and archaeology, but will also be valuable for those in history, anthropology, ethnography, area studies, museum studies and related disciplines. The number of participants is limited to 16 as the programme will include workshop viewing/handling sessions in libraries and museums. Twelve places for doctoral researchers can be applied for in autumn 2017 on a competitive basis, with priority given to CHASE applicants. Four further places are reserved for contributing early career researchers and curators, by application and/or invitation. At least high intermediate Chinese (modern and classical) is required as well as familiarity with the cultural history of dynastic China.

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Format of the training - the programme supports the development of research skills at CHASE (Consortium of the Humanities and the Arts South-east England) and other universities and UK museums and complements the University of London’s two one-day training sessions in history of art, ReSkIN (Research Skills Intercollegiate Network). These three training workshops will be run as object-focussed ʻmasterclassesʼ by sinologists, specialist researchers and curators at the Victoria & Albert Museum (autumn 2017), British Museum (spring 2018) and British Library (summer 2018), in partnership with the project leaders. Through group learning, the training will help participants to gain wider access to artworks as bearers of textual evidence and sources for history, but it will also alert them to the value of inscriptions as formal evidence through the agency of stylistic choices and art-historical citation and the range of possible relationships inscriptions may have to the material objects that bear them. There will be opportunities for career development including networking. Travel (based on residency in south-east England) and subsistence costs for all participants are covered. Contributing early career researchers and curators will each receive an honorarium in addition.

The first workshop is 18 December 2017. The second and third workshops will be held in late March and mid May 2018 (dates tbc).


How to apply - Applicants should prepare the following materials to be sent in a single PDF file by email enquiries@chase.ac.uk by 9 November 2017: (1) A cover letter (max. 2 pages) which should: state clearly whether you are at a CHASE or non-CHASE institution and under which category you are applying (doctoral researcher, early career researcher/curator or advanced MA student); give your reasons for applying, e.g., explaining how the training will contribute to your research project, skills development and career aims; and provide details of your levels of modern and classical Chinese.
(2) CV, including conference presentations and publications.
(3) Details of a case study (max. 2 pages) for use in one of the workshops, including an image or images of an art object (or objects) and explanation of how it could be researched through epigraphy or inscriptions (NB if your case study is selected, you will be asked to prepare a short PPT presentation).
(4) A supporting letter/email from your supervisor or line manager (optional). Queries may be sent to Prof. Shane McCausland at  sm80@soas.ac.uk.