ANTH 237: Art and Material Culture
Department of Anthropology, SUNY Geneseo
Class Meetings: Tuesday 4- 6:30 Sturges 14
Instructor: Dr. James Aimers
Office: Sturges Hall 13H
Please visit me if you have any questions regarding the content or organization of the course, or for reasons related to your academic progress. My office hours are:
Monday 2:30- 3:30 pm
Tuesday 12-2 pm
You can also meet with me by e-mailing for an appointment 2-3 days in advance.
E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Questions I can answer in three sentences or so can be e-mailed, but please speak to me for more complex questions and problems. I read e-mail as often as possible but please allow 1-2 days for a response, not including weekends and holidays. Please include ANTH 288 and a topic in the subject line and sign your message.
Office Phone: 245-5276
Technical and computer-related problems, MyCourses etc: Call the CIT helpdesk at 245-5588
This course looks at the relationship between people and material culture (i.e., things) in societies of varying scale in the past and present. The things that people make and use, from fine art to everyday objects, provide valuable information on cultural ideas and practices. During the course we will discuss a variety of theoretical perspectives to examine objects as diverse as ancient Maya murals or running shoes and students will conduct independent research on material culture.
Students will demonstrate
• familiarity with a range of theoretical approaches to material culture which have emerged in a variety of disciplines.
• perspectives on art from different times and places which will help you evaluate and understand art within your own society.
• a greater appreciation of how everyday objects help us to situate ourselves in the world psychologically and socially.
• the ability to produce original research on material culture in the form of an in-class visual presentation and a written assignment (wiki).
SUNY Geneseo will make reasonable accommodations for persons with documented physical, emotional or learning disabilities. Students should consult with the Director in the Office of Disability Services (Tabitha Buggie-Hunt, 105D Erwin, email@example.com) and their individual faculty regarding any needed accommodations as early as possible in the semester.
1989 Art in Small-Scale Societies, 2nd ed. Prentice-Hall, Upper Saddle River, New Jersey.
Additional Readings are in my Outbox
You will also be tested on:
Anderson , Richard
2004 Calliope’s Sisters: A Comparative Study of Philosophies of Art., 2nd edition. Prentice-Hall, Upper Saddle River, New Jersey.
This class will use two websites. One through MyCourses (standard Geneseo website) and another section on the Geneseo Dashboard wiki (“Bethinged”). If you do not check your Geneseo e-mail account you will not be able to use the websites properly for this class.
Value of Course Components
Online reading tests (Kottak, Anderson 1989, 2004) 20%
Participation (you will record this) 10%
Material Culture in the News (150 words max plus presentation) 10%
Teaching Assistant Wiki Assignment (300 words/student) 15%
Reaction to Week 7 film (150 words max) 5%
Visual Presentation, non-Western art (500 words) 20%
Object Analysis (500 words) 20%
A = 94% +
A - = 90 - 93.99 %
B+ = 87 - 89.99 %
B = 83 - 86.99 %
B - = 80 - 82.99 %
C+ = 77 - 79.99 %
C = 73 - 76.99 %
C - = 68 - 72.99 %
D = 58 - 67.99 %
E = 0 - 57.99 %
See MyCourses -> Course Materials for a document that describes my grading criteria (e.g., what kind of work receives a grade of A).
Geneseo Undergraduate Bulletin : Final grades are recorded as A, A- (excellent); B+, B, B- (very good); C+, C (satisfactory);C- (minimal competence); D (marginal); E (failure); F (failure in courses elected under the pass-fail option which are not completed successfully); P (pass in courses elected under the pass-fail option which are completed successfully; P is equivalent to a grade of C- or higher); S (satisfactory is equivalent to a grade of C- or higher); U (unsatisfactory); and W (withdrawn).
Attendance and Lateness
Regular attendance is the easiest way to ensure success on this course. Please arrive on time.
Late assignments will be penalized 5% per day, including weekends.
Online Reading Tests on Kottak and Anderson (1989; 2004)
Online tests are due by 11:55 pm the night before the readings are discussed in class. You can take the test three times and the software will record your best score. Your lowest score will be dropped at the end of the semester. These tests can be found in the Course Materials section of the class website. The best strategy to succeed with these tests is to do the appropriate reading first and then complete the tests while referring to the reading.
Material Culture in the News
What “stuff” has been in the news lately? Each student will present a 5 minute presentation on material culture in the news. A short written description should be posted to your personal Geneseo wiki space by noon on the day of class. Your presentation should make use of anthropological perspectives or concepts (e.g., ethnicity, gender, social structure/stratification, globalization, etc.).
Teaching Assistant Assignment
For each of the five weeks in which we discuss theoretic readings several students will be in-class “experts” on the topics. Each group should create a wiki page of 1000- to 1500 words (maximum) (average 300 words per student) that introduces that week’s theoretical perspective with reference to the assigned readings and additional scholarly and peer-reviewed resources. These groups will serve as experts during class discussions throughout the course so that the class as a whole develops a clearer understanding of the theory at hand. The wiki page should be posted to the wiki by 9 am the day before class (Monday).
Response to Week 7 Films
During Week 7 I will be away and two films will be shown in class. You should write a short comment on the two films. Use the “Comment” function of the wiki to add this response. This response should demonstrate familiarity with the films. It can compare, the two raise questions, or link them to other sources. Responses must be posted by 2 pm the day after class.
Visual Presentation: non-Western art
Each student will be responsible for an in-class presentation on a non-western art object from an anthropological perspective. Your commentary should related to the course readings and other readings. The presentation will be no longer that 15 minutes with 5 minutes for questions/discussion. A summary of your presentation should be posted on the Bethinged Wiki by 9 am the day before class. There is a description and rubric in MyCourses.
Your object analysis should be on material culture that is not normally considered art. You must refer to a variety of scholarly sources and use a theoretical perspective other than the one your group introduced for the teaching assistant assignment. Topics must be approved in advance. A description of the assignment and a rubric can be found in MyCourses.
Students are urged to read the policies on Academic Honesty at:
As the policy notes, “Any one of the following constitutes evidence of plagiarism:
• direct quotation without identifying punctuation and citation of source;
• paraphrase of expression or thought without proper attribution;
• unacknowledged dependence upon a source in plan, organization, or argument.”
I also consider reusing your own work from another class to be plagiarism. I take academic honesty very seriously and I follow up on instances to the fullest extent that the university allows.
Topics and Readings
You are responsible for each week’s readings and you should be prepared to discuss them. __________________________________________________________________________________________
Week 1: January 17
Introduction: Anthropology, Art, and Material Culture
Scholarly and peer-reviewed sources, American Antiquity style (referencing and citation), plagiarism.
Anderson (2004) Introduction (no test on this short chapter but please read it)
Kottak (2010) Mirror for Humanity Chapter 2: Culture
Kottak test and Plagiarism quiz due by 11:55 pm Monday January 23
Week 2: January 24.
Online test on Kottak (2010), Chapter 2 and plagiarism quiz due by 11:55 pm Monday January 23
1996 Vogel's Net: Traps as Artworks and Artworks as Traps. Journal of Material Culture 1:15-38.
2007a The Material as Culture: Definitions, Perspectives, Approaches. In Understanding Material Culture, pp. 3-16. Sage, London
2007b Studying Material Culture: Origins and Premises. In Understanding Material Culture, pp. 17- 31. Sage, London
Week 3 Chapters online tests due 11:55 pm Monday January 30.
Week 3: January 31: OBJECT BIOGRAPHIES; AGENCY (Group 1)
Material Culture in the News 1
Anderson 1989 Chapter 1 The Meanings of Small Scale and Art
Anderson 2004 Chapter 10 Western Aesthetics: A quartet of Traditions
1986 The Cultural Biography of Things: Commoditization as Process. In The Social Life of Things: Commodities in Cultural Perspective, edited by A. Appadurai, pp. 64-94. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
Conclusion: The Extended Mind. In Art and Agency, pp. 221 – 258. Oxford: Clarendon.
1999 The Liberty Bell: From Commodity to Sacred Object. Journal of Material Culture 4(1):57-78.
2006 Agency, Biography, and Objects. In Handbook of Material Culture, Tilley et al. eds, pp. 74-84 Sage, Los Angeles.
1992 The technology of enchantment and the enchantment of technology. In Anthropology, Art, and Aesthetics, edited by J. Coote and A. Shelton, pp. 40-63. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
Week 4: February 7 MARXISM (Group 2)
Anderson 1989 Chapter 2 The Functions of Art in Small Scale Societies
Material Culture in the News 2
2007 The Deceptive, Suspicious Object: Marxist and Critical Approaches. In Understanding Material Culture, pp. 35-56. Sage, London
Excerpts on Marxism from D'alleva, A.
2005 Methods and Theories of Art History, pp. 48-60. Laurence King, London
2006 In the Matter of Marxism. In Handbook of Material Culture, Tilley et al. eds, pp. 13-28 Sage, Los Angeles.
Explore the websites on Marxism listed on the Bethinged wiki
Week 5: February 14 STRUCTURALISM and SEMIOTICS (Group 3)
Material Culture in the News 3
Anderson 1989 Chapter 3 Iconography and Symbolism
2007 The Object as Symbolic Code: Structural and Semiotic Approaches. In Understanding Material Culture, pp. 57-83. Sage, London
Excerpts from Danesi, Marcel
2007 The Quest for Meaning: A Guide to Semiotic Theory and Practice. University of Toronto Press,
2003 Art and Agency: A Reassessment. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Society 9(3):447-464.
Levi-Strauss for Beginners
Saussure for Beginners
2006 Structuralism and Semiotics. In Handbook of Material Culture, Tilley et al. eds, pp. 29-42. Sage, Los Angeles.
Excerpt on structuralism from: D’Alleva, Anne
2005 Methods and Theories of Art History, pp. 131-43. Laurence King, London.
Week 6: February 21: PHENEMONOLOGY (AND HERMENEUTICS) (Group 4 does not have to cover hermeneutics)
Material Culture in the News 4
Anderson 2004 Chapter 12: Comparative Aesthetics
2000 Introduction. In Introduction to Phenomenology, pp. 1-22. Routledge, New York.
2000 Maurice Merleau-Ponty: the Phenomenology of Perception. In Introduction to Phenomenology, pp. 391-434. Routledge, New York. Description of Merleau-Ponty’s ideas begins after biography, p. 417.
1983 Heidegger's Thinking on Architecture. Perspects 20:61-68.
Seamon, D. (Reference on next page)
No date. Phenomenology, Place, Environment, and Architecture: A Review. Environmental & Architectural Phenomenology Newsletter. Electronic document. http://www.arch.ksu.edu/seamon/seamon_revieweap.htm, accessed January 4, 2012.
2006 Phenomenology and Material Culture. In Handbook of Material Culture, Tilley et al. eds, pp. 43-59. Sage, Los Angeles.
Week 7: February 28 I will be at the New School in New York City for this class. 2 films will be shown (required)
Anderson 1989 Chapter 5 Psychology
Film: Aesthetics: Philosophy of the Arts; 51 min
Film: Objects and Memory (9/11 objects) 62 min
Week 8: March 6 TRADITION, TRANSITION, SIMULATION (Group 5)
Material Culture in the News 5
Anderson 1989 Chapter 6 Art in Transition
1935 The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. In Illuminations: Essays and Reflections edited by H. Arendt, pp. 217-253. Harcourt Brace Jovanovitch, New York.
Graburn, N. H. H.
1976 Introduction: Arts of the Fourth World. In Ethnic and Tourist Arts: Cultural Expressions from the Fourth World, pp. 372-393. University of California Press, Berkeley.
Phillips, R. B.
1998 The Collecting and Display of Souvenir Arts: Authenticity and the "Strictly Commercial". In The Souvenir in Native North American Art from the Northeast, 1700-1900, pp. 49-71. University of Washington Press, Seattle.
Steiner, C. B.
1995 The Art of the Trade: On the Creation of Value and Authenticity in the African Art Market. In The Traffic in culture: Refiguring Art and Anthropology, edited by G. E. Marcus and F. R. Myers, pp. 151-165. University of California Press, Berkeley.
SPRING BREAK March 12-16
Week 9: March 20
Material Culture in the News 6
Anderson 1989 Chapter 7 Cross-Cultural Aesthetics
Anderson 2004 Chapter 13: Art as Culturally Significant Meaning
Anderson 2004 Chapter 15: Western Aesthetics in Cross-Cultural Perspective
Final Revisions to Teaching Assistant Wikis are due
Week 10: March 27
Non-Western Art Presentations 1
Week 11: April 3
Non-Western Art Presentations 2
Week 12: April 10
Non-Western Art Presentations 3
Week 13: April 17
Week 14: April 24
Non-Western Art Presentations 4
Object Analysis pages should be posted to wiki by 9 am Monday April 23
Week 15: Tuesday May 1 is the last day of classes
Non-Western Art Presentations 5
For this class you should also add links to your object analysis wiki entry. We will review these links.
Final Review and discussion
Final Exam: Online “poster session.” We will review the group wiki sites. Each student will briefly introduce their Object analysis. We will discuss the common themes we have uncovered.
Tuesday May 8 3:30-6:30, regular room.