Special Topics in the History of Art: Materiality and Materialism
Has the term "materiality" been fetishized? Has its critical utility been compromised by overexposure? Needless to say, the recent "material turn" in the humanities has generated a substantial body of scholarship devoted, on the one hand, to human interactions with the material world, and on the other, to the realm of objects, stuff, and things. But it has also generated a critical landscape in which the deployment of the term "materiality," unmoored from any specific interpretive system, has become an end in and of itself. This course is designed to put productive pressure on contemporary understandings of "materiality," to reacquaint the term with Marxian historical materialism, and to undertake the sustained study of visual artifacts in dynamic relation to social practice.
Our focus is on print. Working with weekly case studies, our objective is to examine episodes in which printed materials were deeply embedded in human historical processes. The "materiality of print" will be considered from multiple perspectives: as the "stuff" out of which printed images and texts were made; as distinct modes of production; as ideological structures and visual iconographies; and as points of conversion for publics, politics, and power. Our case studies are drawn from the Early Modern and Modern periods in Europe, and we will explore particular historical moments during which print itself was a site of contestation and socio-political engagement.
Cross-disciplinary participation is welcome, with the possibility of tailoring the final research paper to individual student research interests.