Susan Eberhard | CCS Fellow

February 17, 2023

Throughout my graduate work at Berkeley, CCS has generously provided support for summer research and writing. I am training as an art and cultural historian of Qing China (1644-1911), and my research and teaching emphasize multidisciplinary approaches to art, objects and material culture, theories of their transcultural exchange, and the politics of their transformation into knowledge. A 2022 summer grant from CCS gave me the time to focus on an intellectual challenge: significantly reworking the structure and argument of my project. My project uses silver as a lens to interrogate Chinese and transcultural understandings of materials, objects, art and commodities from cultural, economic, and political perspectives. In doing so, it accounts for overlooked and sometimes actively-denigrated historical agents, such as southeastern Chinese craftsmen, retailers, bankers, and moneychangers, as well as their patrons and interlocutors of different cultural backgrounds, genders, and classes. 

I also edited a journal article which was published in fall of 2022 in Journal18: A journal of eighteenth century art and culture. The article was developed from my dissertation’s fourth chapter, and analyzes the form and transcultural trajectory of the only metalwork survivor of an immense cache of diplomatic gifts that were brought by Siamese ambassadors to the court of Louis XIV in 1686. The object was only recently rediscovered and connected to the diplomatic mission; it is a Chinese silver ewer with lively botanical ornament, including a handle and spout that take the form of a twisting pine bough and a sinuous bamboo branch or root. While I argue that the ewer was resonant within Chinese contexts of auspicious meaning, it was catalogued by French diplomats as a chocolatière (a vessel for preparing the fashionable drink of drinking chocolate imported from the Americas), and later became notable as the first recorded example of such an object in France. Silverwares are an understudied subject in the art and craft history of late imperial China, despite the transformational impact of imported silver from Spanish colonial Latin America on Chinese culture and economy in the period. While the ewer moved through the most elite circles, it nonetheless serves as evidence of the agency, skill, and knowledge of anonymous Chinese metalworkers. The study of such objects brings to light Asian histories of global diplomacy and politics, and it materially and metaphorically evokes early modern connections between Asia and the Americas.

- Susan Eberhard
  CCS Fellow