Making Things Curious

Category: Ph.D. Research


Making things curious is the subject of Jenni Dixon’s PhD research project, which aims to examine role of print in the production, promotion and consumption of Birmingham’s manufactured luxuries,1730-1830.

Curiosity is sparked when gaps in knowledge are perceived in the cognitive maps used to navigate physical, social and cultural worlds. When these knowledge gaps are perceived there is an insatiable urge to fill them. Curiosities are objects that spark curiosity: they are fragments that awaken the unseen, disrupt expectations, or provide visual delight that stimulates wonder. Between 1730 and 1830 the manufactured luxury items produced in Birmingham were referred to as curiosities, and the manufactories that created them as cabinets of curiosity. Historians have identified a ‘culture of curiosity’, aspects of which were science, technology, exploration, as well as social and cultural change. The thesis will investigate the following questions:

  • How was print used to disseminate the culture of curiosity and its aspects to manufacturers and how was this interpreted in the design and production of objects;
  • What was the role of print culture in the promotion of not only the objects, butthe idea of the object, and in transforming perceptions of Birmingham;
  • How did new printing technologies enable a transformation in the design and modes of display of spaces of consumption, to entice the curious consumer;
  • How were these three aspects, production, promotion and consumption, interrelated?

History West Midlands is a project devoted to exploring the rich and fascinating past of the region.

The magazine History West Midlands contains high-quality articles written by academics, researchers and others for a wide audience and is edited by Dr Malcolm Dick.  The magazine has published articles devoted to the print history and culture of the region. The project also creates films and podcasts which are available from the website. It supports lectures, heritage tourism and is developing a major book-publications stream on aspects of the region's history.

Members involved in this research

Jenni Dixon

Ph.D. Research Projects