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, SHAPS)
Stephanie Downes (The University of Melbourne, SCC)
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 Associated Outcomes

'Recycling the Past: Narratives, Objects, Emotions' symposium
Friday 9 November 2018
The University of Melbourne
Cluster members: Charles Zika, Lisa Beaven, Sarah Randles, Jenny Spinks

'Memory Keepers' is a collaboration between Multicultural Arts Victoria and the ARC Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions, part of Lella Carridi's 'What Happened at the Pier' project, to create a digital oral history collection about people's journey of migration to Australia.

'The Unending Absence' is a series of scripted audio pieces that provides an alternative interpretative thread through the Melbourne Immigration Museum’s permanent exhibition. Its aim is to speak from inside the immigrant experience and to offer an insight into the migrants’ complex interior landscape. It is a pilot project experimenting with providing alternate layers of interpretation over the Melbourne Immigration Museum’s permanent exhibitions through a co-curated model.
Museums Victoria
Cluster associate: Maria Tumarkin

'The Canoe Project' Exhibition
14 October 2017
28 February 2018
Koorie Heritage Trust Gallery
Cluster member: Penelope Lee

'Love: The Art of Emotion, 1400–1800' Exhibition
30 March–18 June 2017
The University of Melbourne and the National Gallery of Victoria
Co-convenors: Charles Zika and Angie Hesson. Cluster members gave papers including Jane Davidson and Lisa Beaven.

  • Curator’s Perspective
    1 April–17 June 2017
    Dr Angela Hesson delivered numerous talks and lectures to the general public as well as special interest groups as part of the exhibition.
  • Numerous media appearances included ABC radio, RRR, ABC television.
  • Lisa Beaven gave the keynote lecture: 'Amor vincit Omnia: a celebration of art and love' at the National Gallery of Victoria for the opening of the exhibition 'Love: The Art of Emotion'. Lisa also conducted an interview and subsequent podcast for SBS radio and an interview for ABC radio. Listen to 'What is Love'.
  • 'Why We Love' 
    1 April 2017
    Charles Zika with Dr Nadine Cameron
  • 'The Emotions of Love in the Art of Late Medieval and Early Modern Europe'
    4–6 May 2017

'Future Directions in the History of the Book', Public Discussion
8 February 2017
Stephanie Downes, with Professor David McKitterick, participated in a public forum drawing on her research on the emotional reading practices anticipated by late medieval scribes.

'Art, Objects and Emotions 1400–1800' Conference
15–16 November 2016
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
Public lecture by Angela Hesson

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

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

'The Emotional World of Objects' Exhibition
3–14 May 2016
George Paton Gallery, The University of Melbourne
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, Blog Post
26 February 2016
Lisa Beaven announcing the formation of the cluster.

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

'Remembrance and the Expressive Arts', A 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.

Public Events and Educational Programs

Three Masterclasses were delivered in association with the 'Love: Art of Emotion 1400–1800' exhibition including:

NGV and Regional Primary School Philosothon: Teachers’ Professional Learning (NGV, Melbourne; Horsham Regional Art Gallery; Hamilton Art Gallery and The Warrnambool Art Gallery).

Love: Art of Emotion: Creative responses – Writing and Interactive Composition students

Recent Publications

Hesson, A., M. Martin and C. Zika, eds. Love: Art of Emotion, 1400–1800, (National Gallery of Victoria, 2017) exhibition catalogue which includes the following contributions:

  • Beaven, L. M. and A. Hesson. 'Objects of Love', pp. 124−39.
  • Hesson, A. ‘Silver-Sweet and Frantic-Mad’, pp. 2–20 .
  • Zika, C. ‘Sebald Beham, Venus 1539, from The Seven Planets series 1539, engraving’, pp. 34–35.

Downes, S., S. Randles and S. Holloway, eds. Feelings Things: Objects and Emotions Through History. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018.

Trigg, S. J.  ‘“A good hater”: Writing about the Emotions with George Eliot and A. S. Byatt’. Emotions: History, Culture, Society 1.1 (2017): 93–113, is in part concerned with the affective force of domestic objects and textiles, in nineteenth- and twentieth-century fiction.


Professor Evelyn Welch, from Manchester’s ‘Embodied Emotions’ research group visited the Melbourne node on 23 March 2017, funded by the Wellcome Trust. A leading expert on material culture in Renaissance Europe, Evelyn introduced us to her fascinating new research project on human and animal skin, in a paper on ‘Smelling Men in Early Modern Europe’, which was packed full of sensory and prophylactic objects, from scented buttons to perfumed clothing.

Melbourne/Manchester Partnership

This is an exciting new international collaboration between scholars at the universities of Melbourne and Manchester, supported by the Manchester-Melbourne Humanities Consortium Fund. Established in 2016, this group brings together scholars and special collections staff from the two universities and builds upon longstanding research by members of the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions (CHE, 2011–2018), specifically the 'Objects and Emotions' research cluster and the ‘Embodied Emotions’ research cluster at The University of Manchester (est. 2015). In 2018, the ‘Objects and Emotions Research Network’ was established from this partnership. Further information can be found on its website: https://www.objectsandemotions.org and on Twitter @MaterialEmotion.

Objects and Emotions: Rituals, Routines, collections and communities
5–6 July 2017
Manchester Workshop

Attended by cluster members Lisa Beaven, Angela Hesson, Penelope Lee, Una McIlvenna, Jenny Spinks, Sarah Randles and Stephanie Trigg.

The intensive workshop brought together Melbourne scholars from the Melbourne node of CHE with researchers from the ‘Embodied Emotions’ research cluster at The University of Manchester, led respectively by Stephanie Trigg and Sasha Handley. This workshop focused on individual objects in the Whitworth Art Gallery and the John Rylands Library with the expert support of curators Uthra Rajgopal and Zoe Lanceley, and Julianne Simpson, who is the Rare Books and Maps Manager at the Rylands. One day was devoted to future collaborations and the development of the AHRC Networking Grant.

AHRC Networking Grant

This application is being submitted in November, co-ordinated by Sasha Handley of Manchester, with Stephanie Trigg as the lead Co-Investigator. Its final title is 'Emotional Objects: Connecting Collections and Communities in Manchester and Melbourne' and if successful, the program would commence in September, 2018.

Bibliophilia Exhibition and Talk Series

(In progress)

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).” Stephanie Downes, 2016


Stephanie Trigg (sjtrigg@unimelb.edu.au)



CHE Members

Lisa Beaven

La Trobe University


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


Una McIlvenna

The University of Melbourne


Maria Tumarkin (2015, carried over to 2016)

Artistic Associate, The University of Melbourne