Foundations of Material Culture


Fall 2010


4th Floor Classroom


Peter N. Miller

In this course we explore the (relatively brief) history of the “scientific” study of things for their historical value (to be distinguished from aesthetic considerations). We begin with what passes these days for “material culture studies” and after pointing out the narrow horizons of this genre, begin our own reconstruction of what a correct historiography of material culture would look like. We begin with the antiquaries of the Renaissance and Baroque who first began studying things as they studied texts: in context. We then turn to the German “cultural historians” of the nineteenth century whose work—and whose fate—is acutely bound up with new disciplinary issues, then to Marx, Warburg, and the classics of the “Annales School” of the mid twentieth century which re-shaped and continues to dominate the writing of the history of things. We conclude with the contemporary role of archaeology for material culture studies. 3 credits.