Spring 2007
Fully Enrolled

SOCS 649
American Material Culture and the Aesthetics of Everyday Life

Wajda,Shirley Teresa

01/22/2007 - 05/05/2007
Tuesday 06:00 PM - 08:30 PM

Fisk Hall 115

Material culture is defined as "the study through artifacts of the beliefs—values, ideas, attitudes, and assumptions—of a particular community or society at a given time." In this course we will investigate the rich potential of things—artworks, objects, landscapes, buildings—as primary evidence about American society and culture, past and present. Though we will consider the Euro-American material life in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, we will attend more assiduously to the many movements and individuals in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries who sought to democratize or at least balance aesthetics—concepts of beauty and art—in relation to utility, to modernization, and to American everyday life. Through readings, discussion, and direct observation, we will analyze a variety of artifacts—to discover the meanings that these cultural products held for their creators as well as their consumers.

Readings include Kenneth Ames, Death in the Dining Room and Other Tales of Victorian Culture; Richard Bushman, The Refinement of America: Persons, Cities, Houses; Thomas Andrew Denenberg, Wallace Nutting and the Invention of Old America; Jeffrey Meikle, Design in the USA; Russel and Mary Wright, Guide to Easier Living; several essays, and short selections from Clarence Cook, Charles Lock Eastlake, Elbert Hubbard, Raymond Loewy, William Morris, John Ruskin, and Frank Lloyd Wright.

The research and writing assignments in this course are designed to teach students the specific requirements of artifact analysis as well as research methods and theories of art history, anthropology and folk studies, and sociology. Writing assignments include an artifact analysis project and a final interpretive paper.

Shirly Wajda (B.A. Boston University; A.M., Ph.D. University of Pennsylvania) is assistant professor of history and American studies at Kent State University and 2006-2007 fellow at Wesleyan's Center for Humanities. Her book, "Social Currency": American Portrait Photography and the Making of the Middle Class, 1839-1889, is forthcoming. As part of her research on design and domesticity, she curated an exhibition at the Kent State University Museum, "Designing Domesticity: Decorating the American Home Since 1876" in 2001, presented a paper on the everyday aesthetics of home furnishing, "The Fennells Build Their Dream House: Furnishing Family in 1930s America" at the Gender and Built Space Workshop, London, 2005, and is working on a book on the construction of everyday domestic space in the American 1930s.


Consent of Instructor Required: No

Format: Seminar

Level: GLSP Credits: 3 Enrollment Limit: 18

Texts to purchase for this course:
Kenneth Ames, DEATH IN THE DINING ROOM (Temple University Press), Paperback

Eileen Boris, ART AND LABOR (Temple University Press), Paperback

Richard Bushman, THE REFINEMENT OF AMERICA (Vintage), Paperback

Thomas Denenberg, WALLACE NUTTING AND THE INVENTION OF OLD AMERICA (Yale University Press), Paperback

Adrian Forty, OBJECTS OF DESIRE (Thames & Hudson), Paperback

Jeffrey Meikle, DESIGN IN THE USA (Oxford University Press), Paperback


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