Tangible Things: Observing, Collecting, Sorting

The objective of this course is to use object-centered historical and interdisciplinary research to explore the role of material things in the emergence of disciplines of study in museums and research universities in America from the mid-eighteenth century onward. The seminar will investigate how collecting and categorizing tangible things have progressively shaped social, intellectual, and cultural boundaries in American society. We will do this by focusing on a recurrent case study: the numerous and very varied collections at Harvard University, beginning with the Philosophy Chamber founded in 1766. The many tangible things in these collections and their treatment expose the intellectual assumptions and the political and economic forces that have shaped American encounters with the world. 3 credits.