Arts and Culture
Much recent scholarship has approached the global flows of things and ideas using the theoretical framework found in Arjun Appadurai’s seminal work, The Social Life of Things, which examined the ways in which economic objects circulated in different regimes of value in space and time. Rather than analyzing the mechanisms through which “things-in-motion” accrue value, this panel will examine how objects circulating between China and Europe mutually generated various forms of knowledge and created new categories for things in the natural and material worlds across the seventeenth through twentieth centuries. Specifically, the papers will address how things produced in or native to China actively constituted knowledge about foreign places while they simultaneously took on new identities as their physical contexts changed. Rather than framing this process in term of a one-way flow of transformation from their origin in China to an alien European setting, the papers will also challenge the notion that these objects moved from understanding to misunderstanding, and instead were able to retain some of their original meanings and functions and that those meanings and functions remained in dialogue with the new categories into which they were placed in Europe. Moreover, this process can be seen as what Craig Clunas has termed a “co-production” of knowledge, in which the global circulation of objects and ideas are intricately entwined and mutually generative.