Research Stream


Lisa Beaven
The University of Melbourne

Stephanie Downes
The University of Melbourne

Objects and Emotions

This cluster focuses on the emotions involved in the reciprocal relationship between people and objects.

Objects and emotions 2017.jpg

The emotional relationship of people to things has only recently begun to be the subject of academic study. In the social sciences, relationships with objects have not been assigned the same significance as those between individuals or groups, while in the arts, investigation of the emotional meaning of objects has largely been initiated by archaeologists, art historians, and material culture theorists.

Objects play a key role in symbolising and cementing interactions and relationships, and in shaping our identities, past and present. They can embody memories, negotiate absences, and mediate emotional relationships with others. They provide a tangible link to the past, through our sensory exploration of them. In this way, they collapse both time and space. And at the same time as objects offer an insight into the emotions of the past, they force the researcher into a contemplation of their own feelings in or about the archive, in the present.

The cluster is actively involved in fostering international and local collaborations, particularly with art institutions and museums, and is working towards competitive grant funding in the future to work on aspects of material culture with international colleagues.


Lisa Beaven (The University of Melbourne)
Stephanie Downes (The University of Melbourne)
Penelope Lee (The University of Melbourne)

Collaborating Members

Anke Bernau (The University of Manchester)
Lucy Burnett (The University of Melbourne)
Anne Dunlop (The University of Melbourne)
Sasha Handley (The University of Manchester)
Matthew Martin (Art Gallery of Victoria)
Cordelia Warr (The University of Manchester)

Cluster Activities and Main Outcomes

Public Events and Outreach and Engagement Activities

The Canoe Project, Melbourne, Koorie Heritage Trust Gallery
Exhibition dates: 14 October 2017 - 28 February 2018
Cluster member: Penelope Lee

Art, Objects and Emotions 1400-1800, 15 and 16 November, 2016, International Conference, the University of Melbourne
Convenors: Charles Zika and Angela Hesson
Papers given by cluster members Lisa Beaven, Stephanie Downes and Angela Hessson

Feeling Things in the Museum, Lecture 25 October 2016, The University of Queensland Art Museum, Brisbane
Public lecture by Angela Hesson

Between Scandal and Truth: Queen Christina and her collection in Baroque Rome, 31 August and 1 September 2016, Art Gallery of New South Wales
Public Lecture by Lisa Beaven

The Emotional World of Objects Workshop, 4 May 2016
Convenors: Penelope Lee and Kate Richards
Event listing

The Emotional World of Objects Exhibition, George Paton Gallery, University of Melbourne, 3-14 May 2016
Curators: Kate Richards and Penelope Lee 
Catalogue Essay: Stephanie Downes
Blog Post 'An Engagement with 'the Emotional Life of Objects': Curators, teachers, students and an artist'.

The Emotional Life of Objects, February 26, 2016
Blog post by Lisa Beaven to announce the formation of the cluster.

Love Tokens Concert, Melbourne Recital Centre, 12 November, 2015
Blog Post 'Music and Memory in Love Tokens Concert' by Stephanie Trigg. 

Remembrance and the Expressive Arts Study Day, 11 September 2015
Cluster members attending: Penelope Lee, Jane Davidson and Angela Hesson
Blog Post 'Reflections on Remembrance and the Expressive Arts Study Day' by Jane Davidson and Penelope Lee.

In 2012, Stephanie Downes, Sarah Randles and Stephanie Trigg co-cordinated and designed an elective for postgraduate students on “The History of Emotions.” In 2013, Stephanie Downes and Sarah Randles redesigned the course with Giovanni Tarantino, focusing especially on objects as sources for emotions history.

Grant Applications

Melbourne-Manchester Partnership Grant applications (interdisciplinary): $25,000 -Manchester-Melbourne Consortium Fund (2016-18) at the University of Melbourne; £5,000 - Manchester-Melbourne Consortium Fund at the University of Manchester.

Bibliophilia Exhibition and Talk Series

Lisa Beaven, Stephanie Downes and Stephanie Trigg are working with staff at the Baillieu Library of the University of Melbourne to develop an application for an Engagement grant to support a small exhibition and series of talks on the theme of Bibliophilia (or Book Love) to coincide with Rare Book Week in July 2017 and the various activities on campus around that time. The project will focus on the emotions associated with collecting, owning, reading and donating books in Western cultural history: “We want to draw attention to the book as an object: a work that is not just for reading, but which is written on worn, carried on the body, inscribed, etc, and which bears evidence of the fact that it has been ‘loved’ in various ways in different times and places, from Europe to Australia (and with a special focus on Melbourne).” tephanie Downes, 2016 

Work in Progress, Research Publications and Future Events 

Public Panel: Future Directions in the History of the Book
On Feb 8, 2017, Stephanie Downes, with Professor David McKitterick, will participate in a public forum drawing on her research on the emotional reading practices anticipated by late medieval scribes.

LOVE: Art of Emotion 1400-1800, National Gallery of Victoria Exhibition
The exhibition, LOVE: Art of Emotion 1400-1800, curated by Angela Hesson, will draw upon the NGV’s permanent collection to explore the theme of love in art, and the changing manifestations of this complex emotion throughout the early modern period in Europe. Accompanying the exhibition is a catalogue and an extensive performance, educational and public program.

Book Chapters

Stephanie Trigg has a chapter forthcoming which examines the emotional afterlife of glass that has been burned, focusing on Pepys’ account of the Great Fire of London and the Black Saturday Victorian bush fires of 2009, "Vitreous Archives: Fire, Transfigured Objects and the Collecting Impulse,’ in Fire Stories, ed. Grace Moore (Punctum Books, 2016).

Grace Moore is in the preliminary stages of a collaboration with Charlotte Smith of the Melbourne Museum, looking at the Sargood family and their art collections, particularly the emotions surrounding the cultural exchange between Europe, Australia, and New Zealand. 

Lisa Beaven has a chapter forthcoming which examines the role objects play in personal prayer, particularly objects worn or held such as rosaries, crucifixes and portable relics. "Faith or Fetish: Objects and the Body in Baroque Culture', in Baroque to Neo-baroque: Emotion and the Seduction of the Senses, (eds Lisa Beaven and Angela Ndalianis), MIT Press.

Stephanie Downes has a forthcoming article on “Object Lessons: Extra-DIsciplinary Teaching in the History of Emotions” in The Once and Future Classroom (Spring Issue, 2017). The article is a reflection on her experiences as a medievalist teaching the history of emotions using material sources to postgraduate students researching in a range of fields in the humanities.


Angela Hesson is one of the editors (with Charles Zika and Matthew Martin) of the Exhibition catalogue Love: The Art of Emotion 1400-1800 (to be published March 2017), and has written the introduction. Angela Hesson and Lisa Beaven have written a chapter in the catalogue entitled 'The Objects of Love' and Angela Hesson is responsible for many of the catalogue entries.

Stephanie Downes, with Sally Holloway and Sarah Randles, is the co-editor of Feeling Things: Objects and Emotions in History (forthcoming, Oxford University Press). The book developed out of a conference of the same name, co-organised by Stephanie Downes and Sarah Randles at the University of Melbourne in 2013.

Melbourne/Manchester Partnership

Objects and Emotions: Rituals, Routines, Collections and Communities

Members of the cluster at the University of Melbourne have joined forces with researchers at Manchester University on a three-year interdisciplinary and collaborative research project, Objects and Emotions: Rituals, Routines, Collections and Communities. It will develop existing intellectual connections between scholars at Melbourne and Manchester, but expand on them to build a larger research team, and an international network over the next three years. It will develop new approaches for addressing material culture and the history of emotions through shared online projects and an innovative exploration of an intellectual issue that is ripe for new scholarship. This multi-disciplinary project will focus on the intersection between the history of pre-modern emotions and material culture; it will add an important historical dimension to contemporary theoretical work on objects and the relationships between humans and material culture; it will work with the rich cultural collections at our respective universities; and it will develop a strong outreach and engagement component.

This project has received funding of $25,000 from the Manchester-Melbourne Consortium Fund (2016-18) at the University of Melbourne, and £5,000 from the Manchester-Melbourne Consortium Fund at the University of Manchester. Team leaders at Melbourne and Manchester respectively are Stephanie Trigg and Sasha Handley. Plans are well in place for a two-day symposium at Manchester, 5-6 July, 2017, involving researchers from both Universities.


Stephanie Trigg (



CHE Members

Lisa Beaven

The University of Melbourne


Jane Davidson

The University of Melbourne


Samantha Dieckmann

The University of Melbourne


Stephanie Downes

The University of Melbourne


Angela Hesson

The University of Melbourne


Sarah Randles

The University of Melbourne


Jennifer Spinks (Full term)

The University of Melbourne


Stephanie Trigg

The University of Melbourne


Charles Zika

The University of Melbourne