Material culture studies examine relationships between people and objects. Tangible artifacts like furniture, clothing, ceramics, tools, and buildings give insight into communities’ identities, aspirations, and struggles. This course approaches American histories through objects, and considers how interdisciplinary methodologies can reveal alternative understandings of the past. The course traces changing theories and practices of preservation, curation, and display; shifting conceptions of “heritage” among diverse peoples; and ethical challenges posed by Native American and African American items held in museums, particularly in relation to repatriation considerations. The course involves a staged set of class visits to work with collections at the Williams College Archives/Special Collections and Art Museum as well as local/regional repositories and historic sites. While the scope of the course is continental and at times transoceanic, it includes substantial focus on the Northeast/New England and the material assemblages and landscapes that shape western Massachusetts. Students will build familiarity with appropriate techniques for handling objects, cultivate skills for developing and carrying out an original research project, and explore diverse modes of analysis and expression for telling the stories of objects and their associated communities.
Grading: yes pass/fail option,
yes fifth course option
active participation in class discussion and museum visits, in-class presentation about one week's readings, research project prospectus, research project
junior and senior History and American Studies majors
Difference, Power, and Equity
This course is cross-listed and the prefixes carry the following divisional credit:
This course examines diverse historical experiences of North American peoples, including Native Americans and African Americans, in conjunction with responses to Euro-American settler colonialism. It introduces students to foundational methodologies in object studies including decolonizing approaches, and explores key debates about possession, interpretation, and repatriation of objects to descendant communities, such as the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA).
HIST Group F Electives - U.S. + Canada
HIST Group P Electives - Premodern