(as of January 2013)
Note: This course was formerly called A History of the World Told Through Objects.
This course introduces students to major trends in world history and to the considered study of objects as expressions of a particular place and time. Its structure is roughly chronological, beginning in prehistory and continuing until the dawn of mass industrialization—a development that occurred at different times for different cultures. The focus will be on objects—from ordinary tools of daily life to extraordinary monuments of skill and design. These objects will be explored in terms of how and why they were made, by whom and for whom, how they were used, what they meant to their users, and what social structures are embedded in them. It also serves as an introduction to artistic styles and stylistic change. The course will thus touch upon aesthetics, philosophy, religion, technology, cultural and political structures, economic development, and will build upon interrelationships among societies and types of objects across time. Students will gain an understanding of the broad arc of historical eras and the varieties of human culture as well as training in the visual analysis of design objects. The course will deemphasize categorical divisions between the fine arts and other forms of production, focusing instead on the inherent cultural meanings, sacred or profane, exclusive or popular, of particular objects for their makers and users.
The objects that form the backbone of the course will all be drawn from public collections in New York City: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The American Museum of Natural History, The New York Historical Society, The Jewish Museum, The Hispanic Society of America, and the National Museum of the American Indian. Several class meetings will be held in the various museums, and student assignments will require visiting museums across the city to study original objects.
This course will be taught using a lecture format that builds discussion and commentary into the class context. Lectures and supportive texts link these objects to categories of experience and social and geographical context. Multiple writing and research assignments will build in complexity through the semester.
By the successful completion of this course, students will be able to, at an introductory level: