The study of history currently witnesses two markedly different material turns. Some historians are using material artefacts as alternatives to textual sources. Others draw on ‘new materialism’, a new tradition in thought that originated in the field of gender studies. Both groups are trying to move beyond the cultural turn, which has dominated the study of history since the 1980s. However, the first group merely extends the programme of the cultural turn into new domains without rejecting its methods or epistemological foundations. The latter group, on the other hand, provides a new cultural theory. This article demonstrates that the ‘new’ in new materialism is not so much an increased engagement with the material world, but rather a new conceptualization of developing theory and reading texts, which cuts through established dichotomies between matter and meaning or culture and the social. In doing so, a new materialist history can solve some of the problems associated with the cultural turn and the turn to material artefacts.