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Converting Natural Resources: Representations, Performances, Narratives



Bronwen Wilson, Art History, UCLA,

Elisa Antonietta Daniele, Marie Skłodowska-Curie Fellow, UCLA/University of Bologna,


UCLA Center for 17th- & 18th-Century Studies & William Andrews Clark Memorial Library

December 1-2, 2023


This conference considers visual, textual, material, and performative engagement with processes of commodification in the early modern world. It explores how images, objects, and practices converted environments into resources, natural resources into lucrative items with commercial and tax-yielding significance, and destructive forces and forced labor into idealized landscapes and aestheticized bodies. The conference shifts the focus from the collection and display of phenomena in cabinets of curiosities, to the mechanisms and processes through which raw materials were converted into commodities.


The commodity, and the creation of its idea, following Karl Marx, develops independently of its creators and is capable of triggering transformations of humans and landscapes. While worldly goods is a familiar theme from studies, for example, of still lifes and of tulip mania, this conference fastens onto resources, such as minerals, pearls, metals, pigments, glass, ambergris, sugar, and paper, and onto ways in which these materials accrued new values and meanings. Such conversions of resources into products often entailed material, formal, and social transformations, which were often managed through diverse media, re-mediation, and repetition. Accordingly, “Converting Natural Resources” considers how new audiences and consumers for commodities were cultivated through narratives, images, and artifacts.


Papers will address topics such as:

  • commodification of nature and trade

  • describing and embodying challenges around the acquisition
    of raw materials

  • economic thought and utilitarian value in natural history
    and scientific treatises

  • displacements and processes of transculturation

  • laboring, enslaved, gendered, and racialized bodies

  • ecologies of commodities (affective dimensions, desire,
    environmental impacts)

  • journeys and transformations of resources
    (narratives, serial modes of representation, processions)

  • changing approaches to nature and artifice

Image Credit:

Karel van Mallery after Jan van der Straet, The Introduction of the Silkworm, engraving, c. 1595. (public domain)

Faculty and Graduate Student Associates during a tour of the Grunwald Center Collection at the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, 28 April 2017.



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