“No Ideas But in Things”: Objects and Material Culture

Here’s the abridged syllabus for my fall 2018 Writing and Research course. I’m really excited about this one, especially since we will be paying a visit to the Tampa Book Arts Studio, which is a treasure.

Course Description

so much depends

upon

 

a red wheel

barrow

 

glazed with rain

water

 

beside the white

chickens.

William Carlos Williams, “The Red Wheelbarrow”

We live our lives with things—toothbrushes, iPhones, jeans, books, cars, plastic straws, water bottles, yoga mats, uncomfortable desks, soccer balls, ID cards, guns, pennies, treadmills, Post-Its, video games, chai tea lattes, trash bins, fidget spinners, wadded-up receipts—but we rarely ever think about them. Where did they come from? How were they produced? What do they signal to other people about us, and why? What happens when we break them, lose them, or throw them away? What would we learn about ourselves or the world if we gave them the same close attention that the poet William Carlos Williams gives to a red wheelbarrow?

These are the questions that drive the study of material culture, and these are the questions that will drive our research and writing this semester. Have you ever wondered why women’s clothes rarely have pockets? Or why people care so much about Confederate monuments? Or what the deal is with modern “art” that’s just a soup can, a bicycle wheel, or a red square? Or whether those plastic-eating bacteria really work? Or how lab-grown meat gets made? If so, this course will give you the context and research skills to find out!

Assignments and Grade Breakdown

  • Object Analysis/Proposal: 50
  • Annotated Bibliography: 100
  • Literature Review: 150
  • Final Paper: 250
  • Presentation: 100
  • Reading Guides (7/9): 70
  • Quizzes: 30
  • Discussion: 100
  • Peer Review: 40
  • Final Exam: 100
  • Course Climate Survey: 10
  • Total: 1000 points

Course Calendar

8/28

Introductions

Diagnostic Essays

8/30

Ian Woodward, chapter 1 from Understanding Material Culture

Reading Guide

9/4

Woodward continued

They Say, I Say, preface and ch. 1; ch. 14

9/6

Objectified and Eames: The Architect and the Painter excerpts (in class)

Syllabus Quiz

They Say, I Say, ch. 12

9/11

Commodity Week

Thorstein Veblen, chapter 6 from Theory of the Leisure Class

Reading Guide

9/13

Jia Tolentino, “The Promise of Vaping and the Rise of Juul”

Plagiarism Quiz

9/18

Meetings with Dr. H. (no full class meeting)

9/20

Object Analysis/Proposal Due

They Say, I Say, ch. 2-3

Intro to Library Research

Discuss Annotated Bibliography Assignment

9/25

Waste Week

Gay Hawkins, chapter 2 from The Ethics of Waste

Reading Guide

9/27

Syed Faraz Ahmed, “The Global Cost of Electronic Waste”

Library Quiz

10/2

List of Sources Due

Toy Week

Walter Benjamin, “The Cultural History of Toys”

Reading Guide

10/4

Rebecca Onion, “Ode to Green Slime”

William Morris, excerpt from “The Lesser Arts”

Sources Quiz

Reading Guide

10/9

Annotated Bibliographies Due

Visit Book Arts Studio

Discuss Literature Review assignment

10/11

Dr. H. at conference – No class

10/16

Art? Week

Gordon C.F. Bearn, “Kitsch”

Reading Guide

10/18

Cave of Forgotten Dreams (watch before class)

Reading Guide

Quotations Quiz

10/23

Literature Reviews Due

Science Week

Radiolab, “Colors” (listen before class)

Reading Guide

They Say, I Say, ch. 4

10/25

Radiolab, “Famous Tumors” (listen before class)

Reading Guide

They Say, I Say, ch. 5-6

10/30

History Week

Ezekiel Kweku, “Black Flag” (content warning: frank discussion of lynching)

Reading Guide

11/1

Samuel Sinyangwe, “I’m a Black Southerner. I Had to Go Abroad to See a Statue Celebrating Black Liberation”

Thesis Statement Quiz

They Say, I Say, ch. 7

11/6

Draft Introductions and Thesis Statements

Writing & Peer Review Workshop

11/8

Dr. H at conference – No class

11/13

Meetings with Dr. H. (no full class meeting)

11/15

Final Paper Rough Drafts Due in class

Peer Review & Revision workshop in class

11/20

Final Papers Due

Presentation prep and final exam prep in class

11/22

Thanksgiving – No class

11/27

Presentations

11/29

Presentations

12/4

Presentations

12/6

Presentations

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