Heirlooms And Silver Spoons: Artefacts, Objects And Local History


Objects and artefacts, by nature often strongly connected to specific times and places, are particularly useful sources for historians, and material culture - the umbrella term for such items - is increasingly seen as a vital component of historical research. This course examines the use of material culture in local and regional history. Using freely available online collections supplemented with recent scholarship and up-to-date books and articles as well as many fine objects and artefacts, we will discover how historians explore the people and places of the past using material culture.

Prospective students may like to explore the online collections of the University of Oxford’s museums including TREASURES | Ashmolean Museum and Collections | Oxford University Museum of Natural History to find out some of the information that objects and artefacts can give us. You can also read an extract from the book that will be our key text here: Writing Material Culture History: : Writing History Anne Gerritsen Bloomsbury Academic

We will start by considering material culture as both category and methodology, looking at how historians, archaeologists, literary scholars, art historians and many others have come together to create a vibrant area of scholarship. The first part of the course introduces a range of material culture through case studies to investigate sources that help us trace objects and artefacts in collections and archives, as well as the built and natural environment. These case studies draw on material from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, to reflect the research specialism of the tutor, but during the course we will explore a range of historical eras, from the sixteenth century to the recent past. As we move on from the case studies, we will focus on things of many types and sizes, taking in not just heirlooms and silver spoons, but also petticoats, riding paraphernalia, castles and a fabulous array of souvenir tea-towels. In the weekly live sessions participants will be encouraged to share objects and artefacts of their own or from their own research.

The course will focus on the social and material histories of the objects and artefacts we encounter, examining them for meanings that go beyond their outward function and linking them with other objects, spaces and places. It will show how the methodologies of material culture provide historians and other scholars with transferable skills that can be applied to objects and artefacts across historical eras and geographical locations but our focus will always be on what these items tell us about the people of the past as they went about their daily lives.

Programme details

Courses starts: 17 January 2024

Week 0: Course Orientation

Week 1: History through material culture: local and regional contexts

Week 2: Job Throckmorton hunts rabbits

Week 3: The material world of Katherine Devereux

Week 4: The lie of the land: spaces and places

Week 5: Our things: personal possessions

Week 6: Small things: traces, scraps, remnants

Week 7: Big things: houses, churches, castles

Week 8: Remembering things: keepsakes and memorials

Week 9: Living things: horses and the paraphernalia of horsemanship

Week 10: Everyday things: 'you wash, I'll dry': souvenir teatowels


Students who register for CATS points will receive a Record of CATS points on successful completion of their course assessment.

To earn credit (CATS points) you will need to register and pay an additional £10 fee per course. You can do this by ticking the relevant box at the bottom of the enrolment form or when enrolling online.

Coursework is an integral part of all weekly classes and everyone enrolled will be expected to do coursework in order to benefit fully from the course. Only those who have registered for credit will be awarded CATS points for completing work at the required standard.

Students who do not register for CATS points during the enrolment process can either register for CATS points prior to the start of their course or retrospectively from the January 1st after the current full academic year has been completed. If you are enrolled on the Certificate of Higher Education you need to indicate this on the enrolment form but there is no additional registration fee.


Description Costs
Course Fee £257.00
Take this course for CATS points £10.00


Dr Cathryn Enis

My research focuses on material culture, politics and local identity in the English Midlands, particularly in connection with William Shakespeare. I completed my PhD in 2011; Shakespeare before Shakespeare: Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire and the Elizabethan State, co-authored with Glyn Parry, was published by OUP in August 2020.

Course aims

To equip participants to use material culture as an historical source in local and regional contexts.

Course objectives:  

  • To explore the scholarship and methodologies of material culture in order to use material culture as a source for local and regional historical research.
  • To use objects and artefacts to deepen our understanding of past people and their daily lives.

Teaching methods

This course will include recorded lectures and object studies, as well as a weekly live online meeting focusing on a particular theme, from case studies to categories of things based on an aspect of their material form.

We will make extensive use of online resources, including catalogues, exhibitions, documents and articles.

Participants may also be asked to undertake background reading of primary and secondary sources and/or to complete specific object-based tasks and these will be provided either at the beginning of the course or before our weekly meeting. Completing these will be essential to gain the maximum benefit from the live sessions and will be set with due regard to other commitments that participants may have.

Participants will have the opportunity to share their responses to the course material and their own object discoveries in a range of ways that encourage everyone to contribute.

Learning outcomes

By the end of the course students will be expected to:

  • demonstrate knowledge of the key concepts and methodologies of material culture as a source for historians.
  • produce a piece of writing, presentation or creative response that focuses on a particular aspect of an object or artefact (or group of objects or artefacts) in its local or regional context.
  • demonstrate transferable skills in the use of material culture to investigate a historical topic or theme in its local or regional context.

Assessment methods

The final assessment will be an historically-focused object study, object biography or short project that demonstrates the skills acquired during the course. This may take the form of an academic essay of 1500 words, or a presentation or creative response, to include an 800-word written summary or reflection, as agreed with the course tutor.

Students must submit a completed Declaration of Authorship form at the end of term when submitting your final piece of work. CATS points cannot be awarded without the aforementioned form - Declaration of Authorship form


We will close for enrolments 7 days prior to the start date to allow us to complete the course set up. We will email you at that time (7 days before the course begins) with further information and joining instructions. As always, students will want to check spam and junk folders during this period to ensure that these emails are received.

To earn credit (CATS points) for your course you will need to register and pay an additional £10 fee per course. You can do this by ticking the relevant box at the bottom of the enrolment form or when enrolling online.

Please use the 'Book' or 'Apply' button on this page. Alternatively, please complete an enrolment form (Word) or enrolment form (Pdf).

Level and demands

Most of the Department's weekly classes have 10 or 20 CATS points assigned to them. 10 CATS points at FHEQ Level 4 usually consist of ten 2-hour sessions. 20 CATS points at FHEQ Level 4 usually consist of twenty 2-hour sessions. It is expected that, for every 2 hours of tuition you are given, you will engage in eight hours of private study.

Credit Accumulation and Transfer Scheme (CATS)