HC431H - Eighteenth-Century Things: Material Cultures of the Enlightenment

Professor: Daniel Rosenberg

4.00 credits

CRN 12289: Tuesday & Thursday, 10:00-11:50am @ GSH 132

The mundane objects of our world—the things we write with, eat with, play with—structure our every experience. They also reveal our interests, conflicts, and values. This course concerns the stories that everyday objects tell about us and about the emergence of the modern world. The course focuses especially on the material cultures of the eighteenth century in Europe and America, a period of emergence of many of the major features of modernity. This was a period of rapid imperial expansion, slavery, and revolutions. It was the age of the first avowedly feminist movements and the first successful revolutions against slavery. The histories of these events can be unfolded through key objects of the period including commodities such as porcelain, coffee, chocolate, tobacco, and sugar; technologies such as the hot air balloon, the spinning jenny, the marine chronometer, and the steam engine; and information genres such as the broadside, the daily newspaper, and the scholarly journal. They can also be understood through people’s changing relationships to older material things such as bread, fish, water, and even air. As it happens, eighteenth-century writers were themselves deeply interested in material culture. The greatest written work of the period, the famous French Encyclopedia published between the 1750s and the 1770s was a catalogue of the important things and ideas and a theoretical tool for understanding them. In this course, we examine both the material cultures of the eighteenth-century and the theoretical approaches that contemporaries used to understand them.