This tutorial is about stuff — about the physical objects and environments that surround us. At a superficial level, this is a course about consumerism and accumulation, about the habits we have developed in an early 21st-century world driven by interconnected global markets.
But we also consider waste, deprivation, and the vast inequities rooted in historical encounters that these more recent habits have perpetuated. Further, we ask what does stuff mean? How do our individual, physical bodies actually interact with things through our senses? What is the relationship between form and function in the objects we choose and use? How have the collection and curation of objects over time contributed to hierarchies of value? How does our stuff help us shape deeply personal narratives, identities, and memories? What symbolic roles do things play in our communal lives, in our shared rituals? How do we think about stuff in relation to environmental crisis, sustainability, and a global community? Through the lens of stuff, then, we encounter the material world in a digital age.
Why I Wanted to Teach This Topic
I chose this topic because, as a historian, I'm interested in expanding the stories we can tell about the past if we look at sources beyond what traditionally has been collected in archives. "Stuff" seems to fit the bill. With support from the Mellon Humanities in Action grant recently awarded to Grinnell, I have been working with advanced student researchers on a series of new classes in material culture studies, of which stuff is but the tip of the iceberg. Finally, I love supporting hands-on, experiential learning through the body and the senses, especially in the throes of a virtual world accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
– Kelly Maynard