HIST 455
Material Cultures in North American History
Last Offered Fall 2023
Division II Difference, Power, and Equity
Cross-listed AMST 455
This course is not offered in the current catalog

Class Details

Material culture studies consider the dynamic relationships that people develop with the physical world. Tangible items like clothing, furniture, tools, and the built environment are all shaped by communities’ identities, aspirations, resources, struggles, and forms of power. This course approaches North American histories through the lens of materiality, and examines how interdisciplinary methodologies can illuminate multiple or alternate understandings of the past–and its continuing impacts in the twenty-first century. While many historians emphasize written archives and documents as primary sources, scholars and practitioners of material culture studies center everyday as well as exceptional material items that communities have produced and interacted with over many generations. Equally important are the afterlives of these items. At different turns, and across time, social groups have cherished certain belongings; contested, rejected, or remade them; ascribed and activated meanings that may be very different from what the original makers conceived. These continuing transits compel reckoning with major issues of justice, rights, restitution, and sovereignty. The course traces key theories, ethics, and practices of caretaking, preservation, repatriation, curation, creative re-making, and digitization. Members will participate in a series of visits to area museums, collections, and meaningful places to deepen skills of critical analysis. The scope of the course is North American and at times transoceanic. It also includes substantial focus on our location in the Northeast and local formations of materiality and memory, as well as topics in Native American and Indigenous Studies, settler colonialism, and decolonizing approaches. Class members will build familiarity with appropriate techniques for approaching and handling different forms of material culture. They will also cultivate skills for developing and carrying out an original research project; and explore diverse modes of analysis and expression for representing the stories of materials and the communities who engage with them.
The Class: Format: seminar
Limit: 15
Expected: 15
Class#: 1913
Grading: no pass/fail option, yes fifth course option
Requirements/Evaluation: Active participation in class discussion and visits, reading reflections, in-class presentation, research project prospectus, research project
Prerequisites: Two prior courses in American History, American Studies, Native American and Indigenous Studies, or a related area
Enrollment Preferences: If overenrolled, junior and senior History and American Studies majors
Distributions: Division II Difference, Power, and Equity
Notes: This course is cross-listed and the prefixes carry the following divisional credit:
HIST 455 Division II AMST 455 Division II
DPE Notes: This course examines diverse communities' historical experiences across North America in conjunction with resistances to Euro-American settler colonialism. It introduces students to foundational methodologies in material culture studies including decolonizing approaches, and explores key topics about caretaking, interpretation, and repatriation to descendant communities, such as the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act.
Attributes: HIST Group F Electives - U.S. + Canada
HIST Group P Electives - Premodern

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