Institut für Kunstgeschichte



Material Histories of Time: Objects and Practices, 14th-18th centuries

The historiography of timekeeping is traditionally characterized by a dichotomy between research that investigates the evolution of technical devices on the one hand, and research that is concerned with the examination of the cultures and uses of time on the other hand. One of the main consequences of this dichotomy has been the scarcity of studies that take into account the influence of socio-cultural factors on the layout of the technical devices in question. Contributions that conversely investigate cultures and practices of timekeeping through the analysis of objects are equally rare.
The project aims at contributing to a dialogue between these two approaches by taking table clocks, portable watches, marine chronometers, carriage clocks, tact watches, alarm clocks, bells and hands, etc. as the starting point of a joint reflection that will get specialists of the history of horology together with scholars studying the social and cultural history of time.

Objects allow for a tangible grasp of the ways in which timekeeping structures daily practices of temporal coordination and informs the observation of natural phenomena; they facilitate the comprehension of the relationships between clockmakers and their customers through the exploration of archival records of production and consumption. Objects also draw attention towards the modes in which time has been internalized and conveyed through the investigation of clocks’ shapes and of the images that ornate them, as well as of the visual, sound and tactile devices that signal time.
The project will tackle these questions from a long-period perspective, starting with the apparition of the first timekeeping mechanical systems in the Middle Ages, until the premises of industrialization in the eighteenth century.


International Conference, La Chaux-de-Fonds, Musée international d’horlogerie, November 30 – December 1, 2017: