Thinking with Things in North America

Most historians are only comfortable using written sources, yet documents form only a small proportion of surviving material traces of the past. How can we use a wide range of material things to write history? Drawing on anthropology, art history, history, museum studies, and philosophy, this course seeks to develop skills needed to mobilize material things to understand the American past. Students will use the practical examination of particular objects from New York collections to explore American historical themes, such as colonialism, patriotism, and the beginnings of mechanization. Yet achieving excellence also entails considering underlying issues. These include the conflicting claims of indigenous and Western thought systems, the relationship between nature and artifice, prototypes and representations, persistence and mutability, and the tangible and intangible attributes of things. Emphasis is on both the hands-on and theoretical skills needed to produce history from material things, whether written, exhibited, or on the Web. 3 credits.