CMCS Working Groups

The Center supports Working Groups that bring students and faculty together in intellectual communities beyond the classroom. Working Groups are goal-oriented, thematic and work collaboratively towards things like exhibitions, publications, and speaker series. Groups are open to faculty and graduate students. See below for further information on each group and to contact conveners.

Be sure to keep up to date on Working Group meetings and events by subscribing to our website, and following us on Twitter @UDMatCult and Instagram @udcmcs!

working groups 2023–2024
Methods in Material Culture graduate student working group
ConvenerS: LYRIC LOTT, WINTERTHUR PROGRAM IN AMERICAN MATERIAL CULTURE and Riley Thomas, Winterthur/University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation

The Graduate Student Working Group is an interdisciplinary community of graduate students at the University of Delaware focused on sharing material culture methodologies. The group convenes throughout the fall and spring semesters for events on- and off-campus to explore methods with each other and community partners. Events include field studies, lectures, writing groups, workshops, and more. All graduate students are welcome to become involved.

Contact Lyric Lott ( or Riley Thomas ( for further information.

Past working groups

The way we clothe ourselves is fundamentally unsustainable. Current systems of fiber, textile, and apparel production depend on water and other natural resource depletion, soil and water pollution, significant fossil fuel inputs and carbon emissions, and producer and consumer waste. This working group, jointly sponsored by the Delaware Environmental Institute (DENIN) and the Center for Material Culture Studies (CMCS), brings together faculty from across the social sciences, humanities, earth sciences, engineering, agricultural sciences, public policy, art and design, business, and other relevant disciplines to address the question: what would a truly sustainable fashion system look like and how could it be realized?

Developing New Methodologies for Cultural Heritage Conservation (2022-23)
Convener: Joelle Wickens, Department of art conservation

This working group is a community of interdisciplinary faculty and graduate students at the University of Delaware, and local community members focused on bringing new methodologies to the conservation of cultural heritage. Current methodologies in the field draw heavily on western art history, the scientific method, a certain set of scientific instruments… This group is connecting with a wide range of academics and community partners to explore how social science, social activism, oral traditions, symbolic and religious understanding, emotional connection, expanded scientific methodologies and more can be applied to the conservation of cultural heritage. This exploration will shape how conservation is practiced and taught in the future. The group will convene throughout the 2022 fall and 2023 spring semesters through a variety of online and in person gatherings that will include, invited speakers, field trips, and workshops.

Convener: Martin Brückner, Department of English

ThingStor is an interactive database that enables students and scholars to recognize and better understand the form and function of material objects referenced in the works of literature and the visual arts. Currently, a team consisting of members from the Department of English, Computer Science, and the University of Delaware Library is building a prototype entitled “American Literary Things” that will illustrate objects ranging from early references to the “Continental Dollar” or the “London Doll” to later ones such as the “Bowie knife” or the “Shirley Temple cup” cited in Toni Morrison’s novel The Bluest Eye.

ThingStor Working Group members are helping to build this prototype into a first-rate interdisciplinary searchable archive while also gaining skills to them design their own featured project involving objects significant within different disciplines. The ThingStor Working Group allows students to connect their research on objects beyond the archive to critical scholarship, publishing venues, public engagement projects, and much more.

blackness and publicness (2019-20)
Conveners: tiffany barber, department of africana studies and jennifer van horn, department of art history & history

What is public and who decides? How is racial identity formed, communicated, and negotiated through material, visual, and virtual formats? Public performances of blackness and the politics of racial identity are key issues in creative production and destruction, from Kehinde Wiley’s equestrian sculpture in Times Square to Black Lives Matter protestors tagging confederate monuments. The digital dimensions of our everyday existence and the increase in virtual interactions in the wake of COVID-19 beg further consideration regarding how technology and crisis reconfigure the boundaries of public life and identity performance. Under the theme of “Blackness and Publicness,” this 2020-2021 Center for Material Culture Studies working group investigated these topics and more.

Participants workshopped writings-in-progress and discussed readings that interrogate blackness and publicness from the early modern period to the present. During the meetings, the group explored the limits and possibilities of our new virtual realities while considering historic artworks, visual and material artifacts, digital media, and literary works along with historic preservation and museological interpretation. Critical discussion centered around race and representation in the African Diaspora, the Atlantic world, and the hemispheric Americas.

Material culture pedagogy (2019-20)
Convener: Thomas guiler, Winterthur Museum, garden & library

The Material Culture Pedagogy Working Group brought together faculty, staff, and graduate students across University of Delaware’s campus and affiliated cultural institutions to discuss how to teach material culture to diverse audiences inside and outside the classroom. Through conversations, guest speakers, syllabi exchanges, experimentation, and workshops, this collaborative working group sought ways to teach material culture more inclusively and effectively in the twenty-first century. The main focus of this working group was on decolonizing syllabi and courses, integrating anti-racist practices into pedagogy, and exploring new ways to use technology and creative solutions to teach material culture in the COVID- 19 age.



The Media Old and New working group brought together scholars from an array of disciplines with interests in the materiality of media. From the phonograph to the photograph; the typewriter to the tweet: this group considered medium specificity as a crucial issue productively viewed through the lens of material culture studies. The group was especially interested in how contemporary media may be historicized and how historical media can be understood in light of contemporary developments. At the same time, students also considered which forms of pedagogy can engage media not only as conceptual forms but as material ones and how the “hands-on” dimensions of media studies can be best practiced in research and in the classroom.

2018-2019 Lecture Program:

Lecture by Professor Catherine Gallagher (Berkeley)
“Why We Tell It Like It Wasn’t: The Facts about Historical Counterfactuals”

Lecture by Professor Martin Jay (Berkeley)
“Sublime Historical Experience, Real Presence, and Photography”

CMCS Media Old and New Working Group: Seminar with Whitney Trettien (UPenn)
On the History of the Digital Book

CMCS Media Old and New Working Group: Lecture by Nathan Hensley (Georgetown)
“Action Without Agents: Emily Bronte After the Anthropocene”

CMCS Media Old and New Working Group: Lecture by Paul Messier (Yale)


Object Fight Club: The Methods in Material Culture Graduate Student Working Group (2017-18)
Conveners: MIchael Doss, Department of English
victoria sunnergren, Department of art history

The Methods in Material Culture working group was facilitated by and for graduate students to encourage communication across departments, and exchange ideas about research methods. The primary goal of the group was two-fold: first, to build a sense of community around material culture studies here at UD, and second, to equip attendees with a toolbox of research methods drawn from across the disciplines.

Past Events/Meetings:

Theory, Method, and Pedagogy (2016)
Convener: Julian Yates, Department of English

The working group in Theory / Method / Pedagogy served as the venue for a multi-disciplinary conversation about the objects of material culture studies; how they are configured and approached by different disciplines; how they orient our various curricular offerings (undergraduate and graduate level); and what resources they offer us for collaborative research and teaching both in the classroom and the field. In Fall 2016, the group embarked on a series of shared readings and discussion of questions of method and pedagogy.

Ese’eja (2016)
Conveners: Jon Cox, Department of Art and
Monica Dominguez-Torres, Department of Art History

The Ese’Eja working group collaborated with the Ese’Eja community in the Peruvian Amazon–a foraging society known in their own language as “The True People”–in a cultural mapping project that seeks to document their lifestyle, create a community “plan de vida,” and implement educational programs for their schools and surrounding communities. Funded by the National Geographic Genographic Legacy Fund, UD’s Interdisciplinary Humanities Research Center, the Institute for Global Studies, and the Office of Undergraduate Research and Experiential Learning, the overall goal of the cultural mapping project was to help community members to strengthen their sense of identity and to raise international awareness about the issues this indigenous society faces nowadays. Members from the UD team–including students and faculty from various disciplines–traveled to Peru to work alongside Ese’Eja elders to document their knowledge of the land, traditional practices and rituals that are at risk of vanishing. An important outcome of this project was a public exhibition at the University of Delaware campus featuring photos, videos, and objects gathered during these field trips.