Reading Artifacts: The Material Culture of Science
HIST 63.02, Department of History, Dartmouth College, Spring 2021
In addition to written documents, the history of science can be understood through physical artifacts: through microscopes and mastodon molars, globes and pipettes, armadillo shells, botanical drawings, ice cores, dioramas, and even human remains. Focusing on European and American scientific inquiry over the past four centuries, and especially the years before 1800, this course introduces students to the historical study of material culture. Through learning about the varied types of tangible things involved in scientific study across historical periods, as well as the many ways historical people and institutions have approached material artifacts, students will understand more broadly how objects both reflect and shape a culture’s knowledge systems, identities, and values. By encountering historical objects and historical ways of seeing objects, students will also learn how to incorporate objects as sources into their own research as historians. Above all, they will learn to slow down and look closely.