History 592, Material Culture, was the only class that I was able to choose this semester. I chose it because it seemed as though it would be a great introduction to the Public History (despite the fact a class I will be taking next semester is call, Introduction to Public History). I have not been disappointed by this course. The professor, Dr. Gabrielle Lanier, is an architectural historian who has documented many sites. In fact, all the examples and photos she has used in our class (and she typically has over 100 per lecture) have been from her collection. Dr. Lanier is a favorite of most the grad students in our department. Incidentally, I will have her for two of my three courses next semester.
The course is a combination of grad students and undergrads. We all meet from 9:30 – 10:45 on Tuesdays and Thursdays, but the three grad students meet for a fourth hour on Tuesday afternoons. We complete all the same assignments as the undergrads, just on a graduate level. In addition, the book list I provided earlier for the course is for the graduate section. There are three different books the undergrads use. I did purchase one of the three because it is a classic of Material Culture and that is James Deetz’s In Small Things Forgotten: An Archaeology of Early American Life. The other books for the course include: Waste & Want, Refinement of America, New Urban Landscape, Material Christianity, and Chesapeake Family & Their Slaves.
The course is fairly straight forward. We get a broad overview of the various aspects of Material Culture after which we can take classes which focus more on individual matters. The subjects covered by the course include: methods of material studies, archaeology of American life, material culture of death (particularly headstones), architectural landscape, artifacts vs. documentary evidence, domestic environments, museum exhibits, cultural landscape, clothing, urban landscapes, industrial landscapes, foodways, garbage, and technology. A full course! With every topic, Dr. Lanier has carefully selected journal articles which describe the study of the particular field and issues associated with it. Her lectures add to our understanding of the topics. This class will prepare me for two of the classes I will be taking next semester, but you will have to wait to find out what those are!! Registration begins tomorrow!
In addition to daily readings, the course consists of several papers. 1. An object analysis in which and object is physically describes but also put into historical context. 2. An evolution of a 18th or 19th century probate inventory. This assignment was very enjoyable. I was assigned the probate inventory of Joshua Pusey of Chester County, Pennsylvania. My task was to pull as much information as I could about his life, property, family, and occupation from the inventory. 3. A review and critique f a history museum exhibit. This paper is due this coming Thursday and I have yet to start it. Still trying to decide what I would like to write about for this one! 4. The final paper is over a topic of our choosing related to material culture. I have decided to do an in depth study of fall-out shelters from the Cold War Era. In addition to the papers we also had a out of class midterm and will have an out of class final.
The afore mention papers are required of both undergrads and graduate students. For our fourth hour meeting, we have to write and review/reaction paper of what we read for that week. This week I read a book that I chose from a preselected list and I will report on it during our meeting on Tuesday. We have read a wide variety of things, but the readings generally correspond with the subjects from the undergrad portion of the class, but just a more in critical or complete view.
The course requires a lot of work, but I have really enjoyed the readings and feel like I am prepared for my classes in the Spring.
As I mentioned earlier, registration for Spring classes begins tomorrow and I met with my advisor on Friday. I will be taking three classes, two of which are required. I will write briefly about those three classes later in the week because I am really excited about all of them, but one in particular! Until then…