The Social Life of Things: Art, Objects, and the Cultural Politics of Philadelphia
A city is more than just a collection of places. It is a living archive of stories, memories and histories. Whose stories do we hear? Whose stories should we preserve? Are all stories equal? In this course, students will be introduced to a variety of unique historical sites and civic institutions that make visible anew Philadelphia and its cultural history. From the first classroom of the university, which was located at the American Philosophical Society, to the Johnson House Underground Railroad Station and House Museum on Germantown Avenue, this course will highlight the social life of the city, approaching the city itself as a living museum. What can the artworks, objects and institutions we experience each week teach us about the society in which we live? To answer this question, we will meet with artists, archivists, curators and scholars who will illuminate for us the social life of their collections. Through this course, students will be introduced to the study of the history of art. Our discussions will focus on changing aesthetics, the cultural politics of collecting, aspects of display and contextualization, the institution of the museum, and the increasingly blurred boundaries between ethnography, anthropology, and art history.