Doll Parts: Human Forms in the History of Design and Material Culture

What is a doll? In a moment of utter despair, Sara Crewe, the desolate ten-year-old heroine of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s enduringly popular 1905 children’s novel, A Little Princess, provides a disarming definition in this verbal attack on her doll, Emily: “You are nothing but a DOLL!” she cried. “Nothing but a doll—doll—doll! You care for nothing. You are stuffed with sawdust. You never had a heart. Nothing could make you feel. You are a DOLL!” Sara’s impassioned itemization of doll-characteristics is unremarkable, save in one way: they are all stated in the negative—they point not to what the doll is, but to what she inherently fails to be. Lonely Sara rages at Emily not because she is “nothing but a doll,” but because she will never be a human girl, like Sara herself. This course explores the mimetic relation between humans and what Merriam-Webster terms a “small-scale figure of a human being used especially as a child’s plaything,” through the lens of design history and material culture studies. Thematic class sessions ranging from the Ancient world to the present day will include discussion of dolls and human figures in relation to: materiality and making; intersectional feminism; pedagogy and therapy; doll houses and model interiors; nineteenth- and twentieth-century fashion; science and medicine; puppets, automata, and robots; as well as the symbolic representation of dolls in painting, photography, and film. Students are encouraged to pursue a final research project that examines the relevance of dolls and/or human figures to their chosen area of study. 3 Credits.