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Wednesday, 3rd November 11am CET via Zoom


The Visual and Material History Working Group is happy to invite you to its next session on 3rd November at 11:00 on Zoom. We will explore the use of objects, costumes and decors in historical films and TV series and how their presence and role have shifted in the last decade to fit the needs of this type of media and the public’s expectation. By arguing that these objects have an impact on the audience’s perception of the time period shown, we will explore the role historians can have in the elaboration of films. How may scholarship inform the material and visual worlds on screen, but also how can it draw from the medium of film and TV for a different perspective? This session welcomes one speaker, followed by an extended Q&A.

Title Card from Autumn de Wilde’s Emma. (Universal Pictures, 2020)

‘Accuracy vs Anachronism? Materialising the Past Onscreen’ – Dr Madeleine Pelling, Research Associate, Centre for Eighteenth-Century Studies, University of York 

The role of material and visual culture in portraying onscreen a historical and fictional past has traditionally been shaped by discourse around so-called accuracy. Christopher Hogg notes ‘a critical tendency in both academic and journalistic spheres to interpret anachronism […] in rather negative and dismissive terms, as creative oversight, artistic over-indulgence or […] commercially motivated popularisation’ (Christopher Hogg, ‘The Punk-Rock King: Musical Anachronism in Period Film,’ Media International Australia148 (Summer 2013): 86.). From a plastic water bottle left in a publicity shot for ITV’s Downton Abbey (2010-15) to the Ford Mondeo captured in the background of a battle scene in Braveheart (1995), modern artefacts caught out-of-place in the period film regularly excite interest in the press and derision from historians. Increasingly, however, productions – from Bridgerton (2021-) to Outlander (2014-), and The Favourite (2018) to Emma. (2020) – have found inventive ways to expand these parameters, engaging experimental camera work, vibrant costuming and even the replication of extant objects in museum collections to locate their respective worlds in particular, often innovative ways. This paper will examine this sea change, in which material and visual cultures are increasingly engaged to scrutinize our understanding of the past, its economies and hierarchies, to present more diverse perspectives. These developments in the function of objects and images onscreen and beyond, I argue, often align existing source material with broader contemporary conversations around gender, sexuality and race in ways that represent important historiographical intervention as much as creative interpretation.

Q&A chaired by Dr Hannah Greig, Senior Lecturer in Early Modern History, University of York

To register, please contact Francesca Parenti ([email protected]) to receive the ZOOM link