Graduate Courses


ENGL 639-010 “Material Losses: Psychoanalysis and Material Culture in the Contemporary American Novel”
Professor Sarah Wasserman

Fiction has always stored and cataloged the objects that populate our world, but many contemporary novels also depict the decay and disappearance of objects– leaving us a literary history of transience that has gone largely unchronicled. What are the methods and modes of reading that can help us attend to a history of disappearance? How do these methods shift our understanding of 20th and 21st century American literature? In this course, we will approach these questions by considering psychoanalytic concepts alongside foundational theories of material culture studies.  Our goal is to learn to read (for) the disappearing object that has become central in fiction attuned to the experience of perpetual change and loss.

ENGL 874 “Literary Things: Material Culture in American Literature (1700-1900)”
Professor Martin Brückner

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.

MCST/ENGL/ARTH/EAMC 667-012 “Introduction to Theories of Material Culture Studies”
Professor Martin Brückner

This seminar introduces graduate students to the theories and practices of “material culture studies.” As the investigation of anything that is made or modified by humans, material culture works on the assumption that every object can reveal complex stories about past and present societies. Thus, we study household goods, machinery, built forms, art, landscapes and living bodies, as well as processes of production and consumption. At the same time, we examine things as material expressions of values, social relationships, political ideologies, economic conditions and cultural change over time. This seminar explores the principles and theories that inform our investigation; they include (but are not limited to) material concepts; social life of things; modes of object analysis; methodologies and their application; objects as word and image; gendered objects; technology and manufactured things; lived and built environments.

ARTH 667 “The Orient and its Representation”
Professor Vimalin Rujivacharakul

This course explores “the Orient” as a cultural and geopolitical representation in European and Asian discourses through the lenses of architecture and archaeology.  Beginning with critical reading of the now-canonized text of Edward Said, Orientalism, we proceed to study comments and critiques of Said’s theories.  Students then work on individual projects to unravel existing interpretations of Orientalism in modern scholarship in order to develop their own theoretical ground in the post-Said period. The contents of reading materials extend from late 18th to early 20th century, from the rise of Orientalist archaeology to the discovery-cum-making of Mesopotamia and the cults of Indian-Aryan origins and Pan-Asian aesthetics.

ARTH 667 “Eurasia and the Problems of Style”
Professor Vimalin Rujivacharakul

This seminar is a project-based method course.  Students will study theories of form and a historiography of formalism by examining the history of Greco-Buddhist art in conjunction with the construction of knowledge about Eurasian art forms and art historical methods in the 19th and early 20th century. The entire course is divided into three modules.  In each module, students receive one ornamental pattern in the first week of the module, and they will have two weeks to conduct research on the pattern.  In the third week, students will take turns to report on their research results, discuss with classmates, and demonstrate research aptitude.  In the meantime, between the first and the third weeks, students will also be assigned a selection of cornerstone texts on form and art history from art historians and theorists.  Finally, during the fourth week, which is the concluding week of the module, students will read materials relevant to the pattern they was assigned for the module, so that they can debate the state of the field in relation to their own research.

Since this is a project-based method course, students must avoid following each other’s direction when conducting research in each module.  There are no absolutely right or wrong answers.   The most valuable outcome of a method course like this is that each student spends time developing her/his own research aptitudes and research skills.

EAMC667-011 “The City in Material Culture”
Professor Catharine Dann Roeber 

This course explores the rich body of material culture and decorative arts of cities and urban landscapes in the Americas from the 17th to the present. This course focuses on study of objects and spaces inspired by, created in, and associated with urban locales. By concentrating on the physical fabric of the city and representations of it, how can we enliven and complicate the understanding of urban life in America? How did theories of establishing, shaping and living in cities change when material realities intervened? Hosted at Winterthur Museum, the course will emphasize first-hand work with library materials and museum objects as springboards for discussions of theories and historiography of material life in an urban context. Topics to be explored include through lectures, assignments and field-based experiences in the region include: the city as artifact, visual culture of cities, cities as site of production and use of material goods, collective memory and urban redevelopment, urban craftspeople and their trade practices, urban heritage management and more. While emphasis will largely be on cities in North America and the Caribbean, we will incorporate Central and South American comparative topics as well. In addition to primary texts and secondary readings, students will spend considerable time with objects and other artifacts of urban material life.

HIST605 “Historiography of Material Culture”
Professor Katherine Grier (Kasey)