This course introduces students to the major themes, issues, and methods relevant to the study of material culture. While archaeologists have long concerned themselves with the study of prehistoric objects, only a few have focused their attention on objects as historical evidence. We will consider the variety of ways in which scholars and others have come to understand meaning from things and seek specifically to understand how historians have applied those ideas to their work. Studies in Material Culture introduces strategies for how we all can and should do history with things. Historians who don’t find meaning in buildings, landscapes, bodies, chemicals, smells, sounds, or any of all the various things people make and consume miss how most humans have experienced life over time. In this class, we will develop methods for using objects as historical evidence. To do it, we will draw broadly from anthropology, archaeology, semiotics, geography, design, and even history, to understand how scholars and others have explored the complicated relationship between history and objects.

Students enrolled in the Spring 2023 Studies in Material Culture will have two ongoing projects that provide the opportunity to apply their skills. We will partner with Anthropology Lab and Museum at Temple University to investigate and research a selection of their objects toward developing a public face for the museum. In light of this cooperative project, the class will be particularly concerned this semester with historical archaeology as well as an in-depth exploration of objects that relate to your own research. We will also be doing hand embroidery work, with each student designing and stitching a student sampler (basic supplies will be provided). We will do this as a way to connect with the histories of samplers, but to also connect students directly with the work of hand-made objects.