176 | CCN: 31342

Rhetoric of Material Culture

Instructor: Michael Wintroub,

4 Units

Where did the first collections originate? Why did people begin to collect? In what ways did—and do—museums and museum collections contribute to the maintenance and definition of the cultural values (and power) of elite groups? Can they also be associated with acts of resistance among marginal groups/tribes/classes. Are material objects just inanimate things or can they be considered actors in their own right? What is the relationship between collections and notions of sovereignty and/or resistance? How do we define ourselves—as citizens, as members of a discipline or tribe, as nations—with reference to collections? Who owns the objects that stand at the intersection of different nations/tribes/disciplines/practices? Why? What values/ideologies structure the debates and conflicts over definition, meaning and ownership of collections? These are some of the questions we will try to answer in this class. We will read about court spectacles and cabinets of curiosity; about the very first museums; about practices of collecting and travel; about colonial politics, world’s fairs and evolutionary theory; we will study “freaks,” circus side-shows and exotic exhibits, and we will investigate the conflicts over ownership and repatriation of artifacts and collections; finally, we will study the modern corporate imaginary of theme parks such Sea World.