The Fascinating Lives of Things
In this seminar students will select an object of material/visual culture that has some kind of special allure and cultural significance, or strong personal and sentimental associations, and investigate it over the course of the semester, discovering its provenance, history, and relative value. This object can be something in your or your family's possession that you are curious about, or have strong feelings about, or something that you encounter on campus in a museum or in Ann Arbor, during the early weeks of the course. Playing off the popular PBS television program, "The Antiques Roadshow," where people have family heirlooms and personal collectables analyzed and assessed by experts, this seminar will allow you both to assume this expert role and to critique this form of cultural valuation and consumption. We will be particularly interested in the various phases in the "lives" of cultural objects, investigating their manufacture and original use and value, and then their subsequent circulation, repurposing, and revaluation. You will learn how to conduct the necessary historical research on your object, and there will be weekly readings assigned and group discussions about visual art, material culture, and collecting practices. There will be an emphasis on community building and experiential learning, as we share experiences and ideas within the seminar group and make use of campus collections and local Ann Arbor resources. There will be three short graded writing assignments related to the object project, a class presentation, and a final research paper.
Textbooks/Other Materials: Readings (pdfs) will be posted on Canvas
Intended Audience: Freshmen; open to anyone if places still available after first week of classes;
Class Format: Two 80-minute seminar meetings per week, consisting of discussion, with onsite visits to museums and other Ann Arbor locals
Estimated Cost of Materials: $0-50
HISTART Distribution Requirements: Europe and the US, Early Modern and Modern and Contemporary
Fulfills LSA First-year Seminar Requirement