AMST 1017

Material Culture in Focus

Material Culture in Focus
In this course we will investigate material culture, objects made or altered by human hands and design. We will keep a tight focus on one object or group of objects, cultivating an in-depth understanding and benefitting from access to local collections, curators, makers, and users. The focus will change annually, but the subject will always be an object of material culture that students will examine first-hand and research. Students will then create a lasting documentation and analysis of the work for public benefit, whether as an exhibition, a publication, or a website.

For Winter 2023, we will focus on hair and hairwork, exploring the multivalent meanings of hair in American culture, past and present. Nineteenth-century Americans often saved or exchanged locks of hair as mementos, constructing elaborate items of jewelry or keepsake wreaths that emblematized familial relationships and kinship networks. These tokens could serve memorial purposes or solidify friendships. This material, crafted from the body, was often worn on the body, near the heart, or displayed within the intimate space of the home. In more recent decades, hair has become an activist issue and a potent political medium for artists foregrounding feminism and ethnic or racial identity. In this course, we will study many artifacts of hairwork in local collections, conducting archival research and sharing our findings via a website and exhibition; a studio workshop will give us hands-on experience with Victorian techniques of hairwork. We’ll also consider the work of contemporary artists who use hair as a medium: Janine Antoni, Mark Bradford, Sonya Clark, Aisha Cousins, Wenda Gu, David Hammons, Althea Murphy-Price, Paula Santiago. (This course is open to AMST, ART, HIST, and HARC majors, others by waiver)
American Studies
Program in American Studies
Requirements Fulfilled:


Winter 2023

AMST1017A-W23 Lecture (Foutch)

Winter 2021

AMST1017A-W21 Lecture (Foutch)
AMST1017Z-W21 Lab (Foutch)

Winter 2018

AMST1017A-W18 Lecture (Foutch)