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Call for papers: What is Furniture History?


Papers are invited for a symposium on the theme of furniture history, taking place in June 2024 at the University of Leeds.

The history of furniture remains one of the dominant areas of interest within the history of the so-called ‘Decorative Arts’.

Since it emerged in the 19th century, scholarship focused on furniture history has expanded far beyond the interests of its earlier pioneers, transforming furniture history as a discipline.

This two-day symposium seeks to explore furniture history as a subject and to reflect on what furniture history of the future might look like.

The event is organised as part of the exhibition Part of the Furniture: The Library of John Bedford – running at Treasures of the Brotherton Gallery, University of Leeds, until 21 December 2024 – in collaboration with Temple Newsam, Leeds.


We invite submissions for papers on themes related to the history of furniture, focused on any period, any geography, from scholars, museum professionals, collectors, dealers and furniture makers.

We invite papers through any lens, including methodological papers on furniture history as method/approach, case studies on objects and collections, papers on furniture historians, as well as work-in-progress papers on possible futures for furniture history.

Contributions might address (not exhaustive):

  • The history of furniture history
  • Furniture historians
  • Publications of furniture history
  • The sources and materials of furniture history
  • Furniture collections in museums/historic houses
  • Collectors and collecting furniture
  • Studies of individual examples of furniture
  • Studies of types of furniture
  • Furniture dealers; the market for furniture
  • Societies and communities of furniture enthusiasts
  • The themes of furniture history (style, biography, material, geography etc)
  • Furniture history of the future

Papers should be 20 minutes in length; participation can be in-person or online (via Microsoft Teams).


Please submit a brief abstract (maximum 200 words) to Professor Mark Westgarth at by Monday 15 April 2024. Please include title/affiliation with your submission.

Successful speakers will be notified by Friday 26 April 2024.

About the symposium

What is Furniture History? will take place on 6 and 7 June 2024. The symposium programme will include facilitated tours at Temple Newsam (part of Leeds Museums and Galleries) to explore the world class furniture collections at the house. There will also be an opportunity to see extra materials from the collection of John Bedford at the University of Leeds.

The cost for conference delegates (in person) is £25 per person (2 days); £15 per person (1 day). This includes refreshments and lunch, in addition to transport to Temple Newsam. It is free for speakers to attend and there is no cost for online delegates.

The Regional Furniture Society (RFS) are very generously offering financial support for five students (part-time or full-time) or early career professionals in the field to attend the conference. Please see the RFS website for details.


Henry Lawford, The cabinet of practical, useful and decorative furniture designs, London, 1855. Image © Brotherton Library Special Collections, University of Leeds.