Theory & Methods of Material Culture
Museums contain collections of artifacts that they must interpret through exhibits and programs. This course focuses on the different ways in which historians analyze and interpret artifacts. Students read and discussion books and essays from a variety of approaches from scholars in anthropology, art history, archaeology, and history. In addition, we visit the Atlanta History Center exhibits to see how museum use artifacts. As a culminating project, each student writes a research paper using artifacts as a primary source.
In the spring of 2004, the Material Culture class read topics on material culture ranging from 17th century deaths-head gravestones in New England to nineteenth century parlor furnishings to Tupperware and what it says about contemporary American culture. We enjoyed a visit from Aki Todd demonstrating the Japanese tea ceremony and helping us understand more about the objects associated with the ceremony. We ended our class with a dinner at Cracker Barrell, after student Matt Ellis reminded us throughout the semester that we could find almost anything at the Cracker Barrell stores! Our projects included the meaning of Southern tea cakes, the changes in Elvis' style of clothing, judicial robes in America, the meaning of tartan plaids, Prisoner of War leisure-time artifacts, among others!
The spring 2002 class celebrated the end of class with a dinner and presentation of research, shown in the photo below.Student projects ranged from twentieth-century military helmets and Delta flight attendant scarves
to Russian nesting dolls and Graceland.