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Fitzwilliam Museum Workshop 26 November 2010

Impression from the visit at Fitzwilliam Museum Cambridge, 26th of November 2010 by Dr Hanna Hodacs:

We were presented with a smorgasbord of porcelain; for the first ten or so minutes we all kept a respectful distance to this brittle ware. The idea of the session was, however, to facilitate quite a physical encounter between individuals schooled in learning from reading texts and porcelain objects. Correctly read such objects can inform us about history in new and unexpected ways. Our guides were Dr. Victoria Avery and Dr. James Lin, Keeper and Senior Assistant Keeper at The Department of Applied Arts at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, and the porcelain maker Alan Bainbridge. The importance of tacit and tactile knowledge, how to understand (to me!) subtle differences in colours, glow and patina formed a central part in our guides introduction to the objects - objects that we soon became very intimate with. We were encouraged to run our fingers over plates, cups, pots and bowls, to closely scrutinising surfaces, edges, shapes, patterns and images. Next to material knowledge we learned about fashion, manufacturing and counterfeits, how styles and qualities travelled geographically and over time. The objects we were presented to were all unique, with their own places in history. Thinking about their history as an historian, one question that the “Handling Session” at Fitzwilliam Museum raised was: how did early modern merchants handle the vast quantities and qualities of Asian porcelain in all its varieties? What logistics, what systems for ordering, checking, packaging, distributing and marketing were used to handle porcelain of so many different forms?

After the session we had a tea with members of the Centre for History and Economics, including Dr. Tim Harper, Dr. William O’Reilly, Dr. Ulinka Rublack, Dr. Melissa Calaresu, Dr. Mary Laven, and Dr. Pernille Roge.