Myriad Materialities: Towards a New Global Writing of Colonial Ports and Port Cities


A Zoom conference hosted by the Colonial Ports and Global History (CPAGH) Network.

Funded and supported by TORCH, The Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities

In partnership with the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin-Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz

Supported by the DFG, Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft


2 July 2021 (Virtual World Café)

8 and 9 July 2021 (Keynote, Panels, Artist Talkback)


Keynote: Kristin Mann (Emory University)

Commissioned Sound Artist: Linda O Keeffe (University of Edinburgh)


Conference website and forum:

Please click here for the full conference programme

Please click here to register for this conference



Myriad Materialities is a conference organised by the Colonial Ports and Global History (CPAGH) Network at TORCH, The Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities.

This conference draws attention to the materialities ‘beyond the marine’ of colonial ports and port cities, with a view to re/assessing colonial contact and its longer-term impact, and the concomitant circulation of goods and ideas across the centuries and continents. Situating these peopled encounters and penetrating their initial interface will shed new light on materiality and its mutability, notably the conditions by which the negotiation of identities and inscription of subjectivities are imbricated with different ecologies and infrastructures. 

Our conference thus moves toward a new global writing of colonial ports and port cities, exploring their myriad materialities through three intersecting perspectives. First is the perspective of gender. We invite participants to reflect on socially constructed underpinnings of masculinity and femininity, their constant state of flux and the creation of contested liminal spaces beyond binary frameworks. How can these nuances offer new readings of gender through the material cultures of food, entertainment and education, for example?

Second is the perspective of race. Our conference will examine how colonial ports and port cities functioned as key sites not only of problematic racial hierarchies, but also of global interactions and the resistance and destabilisation of those hierarchies. We invite critical engagement with notions of whiteness and their perpetuated discourses, also highlighting the role, contributions and knowledge of non-white actors and agents.

Third is the perspective of class. This sees a renewed attention to issues of social inequality and the wider systemic questions of institutionalization and Eurocentrism, whilst weaving a more intricate understanding of colonial presences and social structures. In what ways and to what extent can there be more equitable ways of engaging with unheard communities? We envisage socially-minded critiques and/or frameworks with which to explore related concerns, notably distributive justice, archives from below and their potentiality for articulating indigenous and other neglected voices.

To this end, we invite researchers and practitioners to bring hitherto discrete methods and practices into closer interdisciplinary dialogue. At a deeper level, we hope to foster a deeper understanding of colonial ports and port cities as spaces defined and redefined by their myriad materialities.

In addition to the panels, CPAGH’s co-leads will host a ‘virtual World Café’. There will be three interactive breakout sessions, exploring the themes of materiality and commodities/consumption, materiality and place, and materiality and provenance. The participants will be organised into three groups on the day and will rotate through these breakouts, before reconvening for a general discussion aimed at articulating some common threads and topics that may intersect with their current work.

Our keynote speaker will be Prof. Kristin Mann, Professor Emerita at Emory University, whose rich expertise and interests extend from eighteenth through twentieth-century African history, to slavery and emancipation, to Atlantic history and the African diaspora. Prof. Mann will speak on ‘Subaltern Perspectives on Circulation, Encounter, and the Mutable Materialities of Gender, Race, and Class in a 19th-Century Atlantic Port: A View from Lagos’.

We are also excited to have commissioned a new sound work, written in response to the conference theme of materialities from sound artist Linda O Keeffe, Head of Art at the University of Edinburgh. This new work will have its premiere at the conference. Dr. O Keeffe will then be joined by CPAGH co-lead Min-Erh Wang for a live talkback exploring her thoughts on creative practices and social advocacies in the age of COVID-19.