Courses 2017-18

Introduction to Material Culture
Professor Joanna Papayiannis
T 3-6

This course is about things – both the extraordinary products of human creativity and the everyday objects of human necessity.  Using an interdisciplinary approach informed by anthropology, art history, archaeology, history and religion, and by means of class activities and field trips, you will investigate the material dimensions of human social and cultural life, in particular why and how objects are given meaning by people.  You will explore the relationship between material forms and people by considering a vast array of objects (clothing, books, art work, technology, etc.) from diverse chronological and geographic contexts (dynastic Egypt, classical Greece, the Islamic world, Mesoamerica, Renaissance Europe, colonial Africa, post-war America, etc.).  You will also consider the activities and processes that have helped form material culture and investigate the effects that the physical and historic contexts of objects have on their meanings.  Finally, you will reflect on the contemporary politics of acquiring, conserving and displaying material things in museums and galleries, and how material culture has bearing upon our notions of memory, heritage and identity.

Prerequisite: Completion of 4.0 FCE
Exclusion: VIC111H1/VIC111Y1, VIC224H1
Distribution Requirement: Humanities, Social Science
Breadth Requirement: Thought, Belief and Behaviour (2)

A History of the World in Objects
Professors Michael Chazan, Ivan Kalmar, Ken Bartlett, and Cara Krmpotich
Lecture: M 12-2
Tutorial: M 2-3: 3-4: 4-5; 5-6

Through a multidisciplinary approach, this course opens new perspectives on the history of artifacts, the evolution of a world of things, and the analysis of material culture. Lectures and tutorials are supplemented by hands-on exercises in museums and local communities.

Distribution Requirement: Humanities
Breadth Requirement: Creative and Cultural Representations (1), Society and its Institutions (3)

The Material Culture of Food
Professor Irina Mihalache
T 11-2

Why were North Americans in the sixties obsessed with cream of mushroom soups and casseroles? How did Jell-O become such a popular ingredient in the 1940s? And what exactly is a “Chinese Chew”? Cooking and eating leave behind numerous material traces. Besides the food itself, its packaging and tools of consumption, we have many other objects which can help us understand what people ate, why and how: culinary texts, such as restaurant menus, cookbooks, food advertisements, magazines, and other ephemera. This courses uses historic objects (1850 – 1960) from the Thomas Fisher Rare Books Library collection to engage critically with the histories of their makers, consumers and audiences, while problematizing the formation of culinary culture in Canada and globally. 

Students enrolled in the course will engage directly with historic artefacts, will learn how to interpret and “translate” historic recipes for contemporary eaters; analyze recipes in relation to issues related to gender, cultural difference, globalization and imperialism, amongst others; and re-construct tastes of the past through cookbooks analysis. Likewise, students develop research skills pertaining to food and material studies, and engage in various multi-sensorial exercises.  Chatelaine magazine will be one of the focus objects, and students develop familiarity to food media, connecting past examples with current practices in the field.  

Prerequisite: Completion of 6.0 FCE
Exclusion: VIC229H1 taken in 2015-2016
Distribution Requirement: Humanities
Breadth Requirement: Thought, Belief and Behaviour (2)

Digital Material Culture
Professor Alan Galey
W 1-4

Do the materials of digital culture being created today have a future as cultural heritage? This course explores the materiality of digital objects, from image and music files to digital documents to video games and other software, and considers their past, present, and future status as artifacts of material culture. The course involves the primary study of digital objects themselves, but also considers the technological infrastructures, cultural contexts, and signifying systems in which they are produced, circulated, and interpreted. What does it mean to treat a video game as future cultural heritage? How is digital rights management shaping the born-digital cultural record? Who determines how digitally created art, literature, music, and other cultural forms are are archived and curated for the future?

The course will also reconsider popular and scholarly ideas about digital materiality, including some key categories: analog vs digital objects; born-digital vs digitized content; critical vs mass digitization; and ephemerality vs longevity of digital materials. Readings will be drawn from a range of fields that study digital materiality, which may include media studies, information studies, digital humanities, video game studies, semiotics, sound studies, internet history, bibliography and textual studies, museology, digital curation and preservation, and copyright law and internet policy. 

However, this is also a hands-on course (as much as that's possible with digital artifacts) and will involve primary study of digital objects at a technical level, which may include introductory-level analysis of code, but no prior coding knowledge is required. With luck, we'll also make at least one field trip to the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library to compare digitized rare books to the actual artifacts on the table.

Prerequisite: Completion of 6.0 FCE
Distribution Requirement: Social Science
Breadth Requirement: Thought, Belief and Behaviour (2)

VIC329H1-Y / S
Material Culture Internship
Professor Cathie Sutton

A practical or experiential learning opportunity under the supervision of a faculty member, normally at a museum, art gallery or other cultural agency (as approved by the supervisor). Not eligible for CR/NCR.

Prerequisite: Completion of 9 FCE; Enrolled in the Material Culture Minor
Distribution Requirement: Humanities, Social Science

VIC429H1-F / S
Advanced Topics in Material Culture, Information Systems, and Meaning-Making
Professor TBA
Time TBA


Prerequisite: VIC224Y1/​VIC225Y1 and completion of 9 FCE; and permission of instructor 
Distribution Requirements: Humanities 
Breadth Requirements: Creative and Cultural Representations (1)

Themes in Material Culture
Professor Cathie Sutton
T 9-12


his fourth year seminar, required for students pursuing a minor in material culture, will have opportunities to explore themes in material culture studies, museum exhibitions and collections as well as processes of object analysis in greater depth and at an advanced level.  Specific topics and research projects will vary according to the interests and specialties of course instructors and students.

Prerequisite: VIC224Y1/VIC225Y1 and completion of 9 FCE; or permission of instructor
Distribution Requirement: Humanities, Social Science
Breadth Requirement: Creative and Cultural Representations (1)

Current Students