Dress—Design—Material Culture, 1850–2000

Bard Graduate Center is excited to announce its inaugural Summer School in Decorative Arts, Design History, and Material Culture. Open to advanced undergraduates (rising juniors and seniors) and recent college graduates, the program draws on resources at BGC and around New York City to provide an intensive, two-week, graduate-level program on material culture studies. Our topic for 2020 is “Dress—Design—Material Culture, 1850–2000.” The course will look at modern fashion and design through different approaches—methodological, technical, museological—that inform object-based study. Led by faculty members Michele Majer and Paul Stirton, this summer school will combine small seminars, collection and site visits, and materials workshops. Eligible for 3 upper-level undergraduate credits.

This summer school will introduce students to the major issues and debates that inform the history of fashion and design, and to the practices of museums, dealers, and collectors in shaping our conceptions of the material past. Beginning in the mid nineteenth-century, this two-week course will trace the key themes and developments in fashion and design scholarship, examining national traditions, the emergence of new materials and technologies, the formation of museum collections, and the role of theory and criticism in shaping the world of goods up to the present.

Each theme will be explored in morning seminars and tutorials followed by supervised visits to New York City collections in the afternoons, often in the company of curators and conservators bringing special insights into the ways in which dress and designed objects are interpreted. This combination of academic discourse complemented by close examination of specific items central to the themes of the course, will impart a richer understanding of both the intellectual and material aspects of fashion and design.

Course features


(tentative and subject to change. Final syllabus will be confirmed in spring 2020)

Week 1
Monday, June 29
9:30 am–12:30 pm
Introduction to Design history, Material Culture and Fashion Studies

2–4 pm
Visit to Metropolitan Museum to examine strategies of display and interpretation

Tuesday, June 30
9:30 am–12:30 pm
Design Reform: From A.W.N. Pugin to William Morris and Charles Rennie Mackintosh

2–4 pm
Visit to Brooklyn Museum (Arts & Crafts and Aesthetic collections: Rockefeller Interior)

Wednesday, July 1
9:30 am–12:30 pm
Collecting Fashion and Historic Dress

2–4 pm
Visit to Cora Ginsburg Gallery, leading dealer in historic fashion and textiles

Thursday, July 2
9:30 am–12:30 pm
French Design and the Luxury Industries: Second Empire to Art Deco

2–4 pm
Visit to the Metropolitan Museum design galleries and period rooms

Friday, July 3

Saturday and Sunday, July 4 and 5
Optional NYC outings

Week 2
Monday, July 6
9:30 am–12:30 pm
Studying Dress History and Fashion (BGC Rare Books)

2–4 pm
Visit to the Fashion Institute of Technology Special Collections

Tuesday, July 7
9 am–12:30 pm
Modernism in Germany, the USSR, and the USA

2– 4 pm
Visit Museum of Modern Art (Modernist Furniture: The Frankfurt Kitchen)

6–8 pm
Film Screening BGC: Fashion and Film

Wednesday, July 8
9:30 am–12:30 pm
Displaying and Exhibiting Fashion

2– 4 pm
Visit to Metropolitan Museum Costume Institute to see “Fashion and Time” and Conservation Lab

6–8 pm
Workshop in BGC Gallery, “Eileen Gray”

Thursday, July 9
9:30 am–12:30 pm
Postmodernism and the Globalization of Design and Fashion

2–4 pm
Visit to Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum to see “Willi Smith: Street Couture” and “Nature By Design”

Friday, July 10
9:30 am–12:30 pm
Presentations and discussion of selected objects
To Apply


Currently enrolled undergraduate students (rising third- and fourth-year) and recent graduates from any accredited institution may apply. Recommended majors: art history, anthropology, archaeology, classics, religious studies; museum studies track particularly encouraged.

All students must be in good academic and disciplinary standing and have a minimum GPA of 3.0.

How To Apply

To be submitted together (as a single pdf)
  • Summer School Application Form
  • A 250-word personal statement of interest (this should address why you are applying to the program, and how it relates to your major and your academic / professional goals)
  • Academic writing sample from a class (this should be 8-10 double-spaced pages, not including bibliography and notes, and may be a final paper or an excerpt from a longer work)

To be submitted with the above application or separately by your institution and referees:

  • Official college transcript
  • Letter of recommendation from one faculty member / advisor

All material should be sent to summer.school@bgc.bard.edu by Sunday, March 1, 2020 (11:59pm EST).


  • Tuition: $5,208 (3 credits)
  • Housing: $700

Included in the cost: All daytime meals, museum admission fees, off-site visit and workshop costs. Housing will be in Bard Hall, our housing facility near Columbus Circle, a short distance from BGC. Students will share spacious two-bedroom apartments that include private bedrooms and shared common areas, kitchens, and bathrooms. Bard Hall has 24-hour Security and Residence Assistance. Some scholarship money to help offset tuition and housing costs will be available. For further information on scholarship opportunities, contact summer.school@bgc.bard.edu.