Period Rooms, from the Nineteenth Century to Today

This course will investigate the topic of the period room—both as an historical and contemporary object. Period rooms began as a fashion in Britain and America in the mid-nineteenth century as a byproduct of the architectural salvages trade to educate the broad public about elite taste. Much appreciated by modern museum visitors, they can be complex objects to interpret due to their specific histories (or lack thereof) and the manner in which they were assembled. The famed architectural historian John Harris even went on to call them “something of a scholarly embarrassment, as research reveals that many were assembled from a variety of sources.” Even so, many museums are doubling down on their interest in period rooms: for example, The Metropolitan Museum of Art will be opening two new installations in their period rooms this year. The first half of the course will take a historiographic look at the evolution of the interpretation of period rooms from the nineteenth century to the present. Using case studies, we will analyze contemporary period room installation in the United States. Guest speakers will be featured. During the second half of the course, students will visit the Brooklyn Museum’s period rooms and do research in the Museum’s decorative arts curatorial files in preparation for their final project. The final project will be a proposed reinterpretation or intervention in one of Brooklyn’s period rooms. The course will meet at both the Bard Graduate Center and the Brooklyn Museum, and include a field trip to The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Students will write a paper and present their projects to the class. 3 credits.