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The Materials & Materiality Research Community, inaugurated by the Fitzwilliam Museum, is stimulating partnerships and collaborative projects by bringing together researchers from the sciences and humanities to investigate the making, materials, and materiality of objects in our collections.

Material knowledge is key to the characterisation, preservation, understanding, and dissemination of heritage. The Materials & Materiality Research Community promotes interdisciplinary approaches while ensuring that research questions are firmly grounded in the broader intellectual frameworks of the arts and humanities. Our research community encourages:

• the application of novel research methodologies to cultural heritage;

• new, transdisciplinary ways of thinking about global societal challenges;

• the translation of our research into activities, tools and resources that benefit public education, enjoyment, and wellbeing.

The Fitzwilliam Museum and Hamilton Kerr Institute are home to world-leading researchers across Technical Art History, Art History, Heritage Science and Archaeology. Their collaborative, collections-based research explores the materials and techniques of objects of the past – from Middle Kingdom Egyptian coffins to mediaeval manuscripts, and from Italian Renaissance panel paintings to 17th century Chinese ceramics.

The Community is driven by the following research questions.

• Which materials and techniques were used to make this object? And what do they tell us about the people who commissioned, made, used, modified and owned the object over time?

• How does knowledge of the materials and materiality of objects help develop our understanding of the cultural, social, economic, and political contexts in which the objects were made, traded, used and modified?

• How much does sharing information about the materials and materiality of collections affect our audiences’ understanding of the world around them and their relationship with, and appreciation of, the collections themselves?

• Can knowledge about the materials and technology of objects of the past help us today? For example, can our research inform the development of future sustainable materials and technologies? And can it facilitate the integration of human- and material-centred approaches with artificial intelligence and machine learning techniques?

The Fitzwilliam and Hamilton Kerr Institute are also founding partners of the Cambridge Heritage Science Hub (CHERISH), together with the Department of Archaeology/McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research and the Cambridge University Library. CHERISH has received £3.5 million of capital investment from the Arts and Humanities Research Council and £770,000 from the University’s allocation of Research England Research Capital Innovation Funding. This funding is paving the way for longer-term strategic activity across the University in the areas of Archaeological and Heritage Science, and of Conservation and Technical Art History.

Current and past research projects connected to Materiality include:

Global Connections: Islamic Art at the Fitzwilliam Museum

Unlocking the English Portrait Miniature: the Materiality of Isaac Oliver’s Oeuvre

New light on Henry VIII’s Great Bible

Being an Islander

Chinese Export Art: The Thirteen Hongs Collection


Ways of Seeing: Inspire 2020

Gold of the Great Steppe

Portraying the Tudors before Holbein: Establishing an Oeuvre for Meynnart Wewyck

Ancient Egyptian Coffins Project

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