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PARSONS > Objects as History: Prehistory to Industrialization

Objects as History: Prehistory to Industrialization

Course Description

(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.

Learning Outcomes

By the successful completion of this course, students will be able to, at an introductory level:

  1. Exhibit an understanding of different eras of human history and cultures.
  2. Exhibit an awareness of and sensitivity toward differing cultural specificities and their relevance to historical material culture.
  3. Engage with historical examples of material culture as generators, embodiments and transmitters of cultural values.
  4. Assess the value and impact of historical examples of material culture and their makers with regard to larger systems and their interrelationship: whether technical, financial, natural, spiritual, social or political.
  5. Begin to develop skills and vocabulary necessary for persuasive argumentation by writing clear and cogent text-based analyses, including the critical thesis-driven essay.
  6. Evidence the process of reading, i.e. understanding multiples types of communication as forms of critical thought by identifying the central arguments and supporting evidence in various types of texts.
  7. Utilize and understand the benefits of a variety of sources of research material, including electronic catalogs and indices, books, periodicals, exhibition materials, databases, web sites, and network-based research tools which connects traditional research skills to global social networks, as well as one's own experiences.
  8. Articulate their ideas and the assist in the development of the ideas of others in oral and written form, through constructive critique and feedback.
  9. Successfully attribute the use of others' ideas using a standard citation format.

Fall 2012 Information Session

  • Presentation Slides (PDF)
  • Presentation
  • Presentation (MP3)
  • Q&A
  • Q&A (MP3)