Reading Artifacts: The Material Culture of Science
HIST 63.02, Department of History, Dartmouth College, Spring 2021 and Spring 2022
In addition to its written documents, the history of science can be understood through its physical artifacts: through microscopes and mastodon molars, maps and masks, armadillo shells, botanical drawings, dioramas, and even human remains. Focusing on European and American scientific inquiry and collecting, 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, as well as the many ways historical people and institutions have approached material artifacts, students will understand more broadly how objects and collections both reflect and shape a culture’s knowledge systems, identities, and values. By encountering historical artifacts and historical ways of seeing objects, students will also learn how to incorporate objects as sources into their own research as historians. Above all, in an era of technological saturation, they will learn to slow down and to look closely.