Civil War Stuff: Writing History through Objects
ARSC 390 – 086 Honors Colloquium
Dr. Sarah Beetham, Instructor
In this course, we will explore the significant objects used to wage, picture, and remember the American Civil War. Using methods from material culture studies, we will examine prints, photographs, fine art, weapons, textiles, medical objects, landscapes, memorials, and souvenirs to understand how objects can increase our understanding of how the Civil War happened and what it has meant to us as a nation. We will read testimonials from soldiers, witnesses, family members, enslaved people, artists, and statesmen of the Civil War along with works by scholars of material culture. Students will write brief response papers and two formal essays analyzing the representation of Civil War objects in popular culture. For their final project, students will be asked to write a research paper proposing an exhibition based on a theme related to the Civil War using the types of objects studied during the semester.
Literary Things: Material Culture in American Literature (1700-1900)
This seminar explores the rise of “literary things” and examines how objects—from narrated figure and iconic symbol, to consumer good and fetishized object—shaped form, function, and meaning in American literature between 1750 and 1900. Following a general introduction to the field of material culture studies and its methodology, seminar meetings will explore how objects circulate and signify in different literary genres. Topics to be discussed are Enlightenment taxonomies, the rise of the “It-Narrative” and popular print culture; literacy, gender, and self-representation; theatricality and performance; race and objectification; the birth of the modern child and the agency of “literary things.” Critical readings include texts on the theory and practice of material culture studies and historical contexts. Primary sources include travel narratives, drama, novels, short stories, fairy tales, and poetry.