Metalwork: Technology, Value, Reception

From works of ancient mythography (Hesiod’s Works and Days) to modern archaeology (Thomsen’s Three-Age system), metals have long been considered a central feature of human culture. Metalwork is a meeting point of art, science, technology, and industry, with origins spanning multiple geographies and civilizations. The beginning of metalwork technology is found in the ability to smelt metal ores from binding rocks found in the earth. Gold, silver, copper, iron, tin, and lead are all natural resources whose extraction can have devastating effects on the natural environment, and is often regarded as a prime example of human industrialization. From the earth to the finalized object, from the metalworker’s workshop to the market, from the temple’s treasury to the bank, this course explores the meaning and materiality of metals in the widest possible sense—the functional possibilities they afford as artifacts, the technological demands they impose as resources, and the constructions of value they have underpinned in different systems of exchange and morality. Our discussions are based on case studies from a wide range of archaeological, historical, and technological settings, drawing on the significance and cultural meaning of the materials, technologies of making, and the finite object in any given culture. We will examine the extended life-cycles of metals from their initial sourcing and processing in quarries and workshops to their circulation and use as functional items or luxury craft to their curation, display, reception, and degradation, as votive objects or museum pieces. The course will include visits to institutions devoted to the collection, preservation, and commercial transaction of metals and metal objects.

3 credits. Satisfies the pre-1800 requirement.