In his Berliner Kindheit um 1900 (1938) Walter Benjamin describes the joy of accessing a chest of drawers, touching different pieces of clothing until finally reaching his much-desired folded woollen socks. Nothing gave him more delight than to slowly stick his hand into the socks as far as possible and unfold them. This example shows that things not only have a practical purpose, but can also be experienced. This seminar investigates how medieval chests, caskets and purses functioned as containers that were activated through sight and touch (and sometimes smell). By studying artefacts’ material and structural qualities (material, technique, size, weight, opening and closing mechanisms) as well as their iconography and possible functions, we explore how medieval people engaged with chests, caskets and purses as well as their contents.

Upon carefully unfolding the socks Walter Benjamin feels that the woollen mass inside the sock slowly takes on a different shape (a recognizable and wearable sock) with its purse (the folded thing called sock) disappearing from sight. How did medieval chests, caskets and purses take on shape and meaning through making, seeing and touching? This seminar is an attempt to discover what these items can unravel when we understand them not as ‘frozen’ items in museums, but as vibrant objects.

This ‘Blockseminar’ consists of an introductory meeting on 21 October (Raum 0.12), followed by 4 long meetings on 2, 4, 23 and 25 November (Raum 0.12). Students are expected to prepare readings for each session and will give short presentations (Referat) on a specific object.

Semester: WiSe 2022/23