Texts and Contexts studies the constitution and significance of objects and ideas, as well as their circulation and transmission. Combining approaches in cultural and intellectual history, this thematic field is primarily concerned with the meaning of things. Clifford Geertz once described man as “an animal suspended in webs of significance he himself has spun.” Texts and Contexts identifies, explores, and interprets these “webs of significance” over time and space.
We define "texts" broadly. Any structure charged with meaning is considered a text. Most narrowly, it refers to literary artifacts from the great classics to dime novels. Artworks from cave drawings to digital imagery are texts as are everyday objects, such as clothes, furniture, and cars. Architecture, urban planning, and maps produce meaning through the organization and manipulation of space. Moreover texts are not limited to material artifacts. Rituals, for instance, constitute texts that are particularly rich in meaning, from everyday etiquette to highly codified ceremonies of religious or political communities. Texts, in short, encompass all human artifices susceptible to historical interpretation. To draw conclusions about past societies by exploring their texts, this theme relates texts to their "contexts"—the specific socio-economic, technological, political, and cultural circumstances of their production and reception. Foregrounding the epistemological challenges the reconstruction of these contexts poses, Texts and Contexts engages with methodological issues of fundamental importance to history as a discipline.