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American Material Culture: Nineteenth-Century New York

Summer Seminars and Institutes for College and University Teachers

Postmark Deadline: March 4, 2013

A four-week institute for eighteen college and university teachers on American material culture, using nineteenth-century New York City as a case study.

The director, a professor at the Bard College Graduate Center for Decorative Arts, Design History, and Material Culture (BGC), introduces higher education faculty members to central concepts in the history of material culture history, using New York City and its rich local and regional collections as a case study. Topics include the transition from craft to industry, space and place in the urban landscape, "high" and "low" culture, and approaches to the study of visual artifacts. Class, ethnic, and racial diversity are addressed throughout the program. Institute activities take place mornings and afternoons; each week includes seminars on the week's themes and readings, specialized sessions led by guest faculty, site visits to urban neighborhoods and important collections, workshops on digital methodologies for presenting historical artifacts, and time to work on teaching and research projects. The weekly segments are led by Catherine Whalen (BGC), Bernard Herman (American studies, The University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill), Katherine Grier (history and museum studies, University of Delaware), and Joshua Brown (history, City University of New York Graduate Center). Guest lecturers include Kenneth Ames (BGC), Ivan Gaskell (BGC), Amelia Peck (Metropolitian Musem of Art), Edward S. Cooke, Jr. (art history, Yale University), Deborah Schmidt-Bach (New-York Historical Society), John Tchen (history, New York University), and Diane Wall (anthropology, City College-City University of New York). The participants read important general works on American material culture, including Jules Prown, "Mind in Matter: An Introduction to Material Culture Theory and Method" (1982); James Deetz, In Small Things Forgotten: An Archaeology of Early American Life (1996); Bernard Herman, Townhouse: Architecture and Material Life in the Early American City, 1780-1830 (2005); J. Ritchie Garrison, "Material Cultures," in A Companion to American Cultural History (2008); and Dell Upton, Another City: Urban Life and Urban Spaces in the New American Republic (2008). They also read a variety of specific studies of material culture in New York. Site visits include the New-York Historical Society, the Yale University Art Gallery, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and locations in Lower Manhattan, including the Museum of the Chinese in America and the African Burial Ground. The participants have access to the BGC's library, digital media laboratory, and residence facility.

Faculty: Kenneth L. Ames, Debra Schmidt Bach, Joshua Brown, Edward S. Cooke Jr., Cynthia Copeland, Katherine C. Grier, Bernard L. Herman, Kimon Keramidas, Amelia Peck, Jack (John Kuo Wei) Tchen, Diana di Zerega Wall, Catherine Whalen

Dates: July 1—26 (4 weeks)
Director(s): David Jaffee
Grantee Institutions: Bard College Graduate Center for Decorative Arts, Design History, and Material Culture
Location: New York, NY

About NEH Summer Seminars and Institutes for College and University Teachers

Each year the NEH’s Division of Education Programs offers teachers opportunities to study a variety of humanities topics in Summer Seminars and Institutes. Each NEH Summer Seminar includes sixteen participants working in collaboration with one or two leading scholars. Participants have access to a major research collection, with time reserved to pursue individual projects.

Amount of Award

NEH Summer Scholars are awarded fixed stipends to help cover travel costs, books and other research expenses, and living expenses. Stipend amounts are based on the length of the NEH Summer Seminar or Institute: $2,100 (2 weeks), $2,700 (3 weeks), $3,300 (4 weeks), $3,900 (5 weeks), or $4,500 (6 weeks).


NEH Summer Seminars and Institutes are designed primarily for teachers of American undergraduate students. Qualified independent scholars and those employed by museums, libraries, historical societies, and other organizations may be eligible to compete provided they can effectively advance the teaching and research goals of the project.

You may request information about as many projects as you like, but you may apply to no more than two NEH Summer Programs (seminars, institutes, or Landmarks workshops) and you may attend only one.

Please note:

Adjunct faculty, community college faculty and first-time participants are encouraged to apply.

Up to two seminar spaces and three institute spaces are reserved for current full-time graduate students in the humanities.

How to Apply

For more information and application instructions, please visit the program website listed above.