This seminar examines material forms and their uses in American history, encompassing artifacts, the built environment, and domestic and public spaces, with emphasis on both scholarship and the field of public history. Using readings covering a wide range of time periods and topics in United States history, we will discuss the development of material culture studies, methodologies of material culture; and artifacts as sources for historians. We will also examine interpretation of objects in settings such as museums and historic sites and the impact of digital technologies such as Object VR photography. Options for projects will include object studies and/or historiographical essays. This course fulfills an elective requirement for public history, but all graduate students are welcome.

Your assignment for the first class, on Wednesday, January 17, will be several articles that will be posted on the course Sakai site the week before school begins.  Students will receive announcements when the articles are posted and when the syllabus is ready.

Please also obtain these books:

  • Deetz, In Small Things Forgotten (Penguin/Knopf-Doubleday) – make sure to get the 1996 edition.
  • Prown, American Artifacts (Michigan State University Press)
  • Lanier, Everyday Architecture of the Mid-Atlantic: Looking at Buildings and Landscapes (Johns Hopkins University Press)
  • Breen, Marketplace of Revolution (Oxford University Press)
  • LaRoche, Free Black Communities and the Underground Railroad (University of Illinois Press).
  • Ulrich, The Age of Homespun (Penguin/Knopf-Doubleday)
  • Ames, Death in the Dining Room and Other Tales of Victorian Culture (Temple University Press)

These books deal primarily with material culture in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and we will probably read them in approximately the same order listed above.  This will take us through about half the semester, and we will decide together how to proceed with projects and additional reading for the remaining weeks.

Other classes for spring:

Public History Practice – Books will be available in the MARCH library for use in the center.

Topics in Historic Preservation – Individualized graduate-level reading and project plans will be worked out at the beginning of the spring semester.  You will also attend and fulfill all the requirements of a 10-week MARCH historic preservation course taught by a professional in the field.