A Scientific Approach to Dress, Material Culture, and Identity (SADMaCI)

Tiger Team 2018-2019

Identity pic3
Photo Credit: Libby Oliver

Upcoming Events:

Between September 2018 and March 2019, a series of 3 thematic workshops and 1 concluding workshop will be organised.

The next workshop shall take place in December, and will bring together expertise from museum studies, archeology and ancient history, as well as external visitors.

Follow all LIAS events here

Follow us on twitter by using #SADMaCI

The Project:

Scientific approaches have hardly been used to reflect on questions related to the provenance of dress and textiles, the relationship between materials and producers and between clothing and wearers, and cultural anthropological interests relating to the expression of national, cultural and religious identities. Taking the Eastern Mediterranean with its long history of migration, cross-cultural and interreligious interactions as a case-study, this highly interdisciplinary Tiger Team (history, archaeology, museum studies, physics, and genetics) aims to explore how the latest scientific methodologies for high-tech material analysis can be used for socio-economic historical study of dress and identity from Antiquity to Modern times.

With visual and material aspects being crucial to research on dress and textiles, anthropological and historical research has made use of methodological approaches from the field of visual culture and art history. However, current research on the material aspects is more limited. While costume and fashion studies have emphasised the importance of materiality, research has hardly integrated scientific approaches in this context. Furthermore, studies on dress in Modern History have so far mainly focused on regions where dress was an expression of rather homogenous group identities and of loyalties to authorities or political, national or religious belonging. Hybrid identities resulting from mobility and migration have only recently gained attention. In addition, research that spans across different time periods is rare. This Tiger Team aims to advance the field by choosing an innovative focus on the interconnection of mobility, migration and identity as expressed in the materiality of dress and textiles across time. Similar projects in terms of methodology, but with a limited focus and specific case-studies have been successfully conducted in Belgium where the bones, clothing and a number of artefacts belonging to a thirteenth-century bishop were scientifically analysed with the latest research methods to find out more about his life and the production and provenance of the clothing and artefacts ( In Denmark, the Centre for Textile Research at the University of Copenhagen has successfully undertaken several projects in which a scientific analysis is combined with socio-economic historical research questions (

How Interdisciplinary Approaches Impact Research

This Tiger Team offers an innovative approach to the investigation of the provenance of dress and textiles, the complex relationship between clothing, producers and wearers, and the expression of national, cultural and religious identities. Previous, often fragmentary, research has offered new insights by applying a scientific methodology on historical textiles. The latest developments, however, for instance in bio-imaging and genetics, have yet to be applied in this context and in a systematic way onto a variety of textiles from different periods in order to investigate what information can be found. Questions that previously were considered to be very difficult or even impossible to answer, for instance the geographical origins of a piece of clothing from the past and the different places it travelled, or the exact identity of its wearers, can be tackled by using some of the latest scientific instruments and methods. Moreover, for the first time in this context, the inclusion of researchers working in forensic science will guide the team to think about the contamination of historical artefacts and to explore, together with conservationists and researchers from museum studies, new conservation methods that would allow us to keep an artefact’s historical context as intact as possible.

Team Members*:

Dr Svenja Bethke (School of History, Politics and International Relations) [Co-Lead]

Dr Sandra Dudley (Department of Museum Studies)

Dr Mary E. Harlow (School of Archaeology and Ancient History)

Prof. Mark A. Jobling (Department of Genetics and Genome Biology)

Prof. John E. Lees (Department of Physics and Astronomy)

Dr Jan Vandeburie (School of History, Politics and International Relations) [Co-Lead]

*At the time of project application.

Team Support Members:

Dr Diane Levine and Prof Lisa Smith (Leicester Institute for Advanced Studies)

Alan Ashton-Smith (CSSAH College Research Development Manager)

Charlotte King (Leicester Institute for Advanced Studies)

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