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Courses (2023-24)

Material Culture courses for the 2023-24 academic year. Please note: course listings change from year to year. Should you have any questions, please contact

MCS223H1S | Signs, Meanings, and Culture

Signs, Meanings, and Culture
Professor Ivan Kalmar
T 2-4

This course will introduce the principles of semiotic thought, applying them to the study of language, social organization, myth, and material culture. Examples may be drawn from everyday life as well as from classical and popular art and music, and from screen culture.

Exclusion: VIC223Y1
Distribution Requirements: Social Science
Breadth Requirements: Thought, Belief and Behaviour (2)

MCS224H1F | Approaches to Material Culture

Approaches to Material Culture
Professor Joanna Papayiannis
T 10-1

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 archaeology, museum studies, anthropology, art history, economics and religion, students will investigate the material dimension of human life.  The course will consider some of the theoretical perspectives that have shaped the ways we approach and interpret material culture to study different types of objects, for example commodities and retail goods, amulets and idols, and artifacts and works of art.  Students will explore the relationship between material forms and people by analyzing the economic, social, political, religious, and academic activities and processes that have helped form material culture, such as consumption, exchange, globalization, technology, collecting, colonialism, and conservation.  Through hands-on activities and field trips to museums and galleries, the course will also consider the changing contexts of objects through collection, interpretation, and exhibition to explore issues of gender, race, ethnicity, and social inequity.  In this course, students will discover that just as we construct material objects out of clay, cloth, copper, and canvas, so the material objects themselves have the ability to construct us, socially and culturally, as human beings. 

Exclusion: VIC224H1VIC224Y1MCS224Y1
Distribution Requirements: Social Science
Breadth Requirements: Thought, Belief and Behaviour (2)

MCS225Y1Y | A History of the World in Objects and Signs

A History of the World in Objects and Signs
Prof. Michael Chazan, Prof. Cathie Sutton, Prof. Ken Bartlett, Prof. Sequoia Miller
M 12-2

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

Exclusion: VIC225Y1
Distribution Requirements: Humanities
Breadth Requirements: Creative and Cultural Representations (1), Society and its Institutions (3)

MCS325H1F | Media Semiotics

Media Semiotics
Professor Paolo Granata
M 2-4

This course will deal with media semiotics, both in the traditional sense of the study of meanings in all media (from print to digital) and in how new digital media are changing the nature of signification and communication. The course will look at the usage of semiotics to study how meaning is negotiated in interactive media versus the older and still extant one-way media (print and radio, for example). The course will utilize actual media materials (comic books, television programs, text messages, and so on) on which semiotic analysis can be conducted.

Prerequisite: MCS223H1VIC223Y1
Exclusion: VIC325H1
Distribution Requirements: Social Science
Breadth Requirements: Creative and Cultural Representations (1)

MCS326H1S | The Material Culture of Food

The Material Culture of Food
Professor Irina Mihalache
W 1-4

This course takes a thematic approach to the culinary history of Canada, from roughly the 1850s to the 1960s. We are interested in some of the BIG formative moments in Canada’s history – colonial settlement, disruption of Indigenous communities, immigration, the great depression, and war rationing. We explore these moments from the point of view of the foods that shaped them and the communities that shaped these foods. Of greatest importance to us in this course is a material culture perspective: one that considers the histories and impact of the “stuff” food is made of (ingredients) and made in/with (tools) AND the “knowledge” recorded in recipes, diaries, manuals, cookbooks, women’s magazines or restaurant menus. And of, course, we cannot forget the humans: those who cultivate, process, cook, serve, sell, teach, and write about food.

Prerequisite: Completion of 9.0 credits
Exclusion: VIC326H1; VIC229H1 (Special Topics in Material Culture: The Material Culture of Food), offered in Winter 2016
Distribution Requirements: Humanities
Breadth Requirements: Thought, Belief and Behaviour (2)
MCS328H1S | Materializing Cultural Identities

Materializing Cultural Identities
Professor Joanna Papayiannis
T 10-12

This course is about how culture is materialized. Students will explore how belief systems, ideologies, customs, and behaviors are embodied in tangible, physical, objects, as well as how objects can be used to define or challenge racial, ethnic, political, and social identities.  Course topics include Egyptian mummies, Ancient Greek vases, Medieval relics, Renaissance portraiture, Victorian dollhouses, and Indigenous art, among others. Students will engage in class activities and creative assignments, such as a blog post, portrait photo, audio guide, and exhibition.  Students will also take their learning outside of the classroom by participating in class excursions to the Royal Ontario Museum and the University of Toronto Art Museum.  

Prerequisite: Completion of 9.0 credits
Exclusion: VIC328H1
Distribution Requirements: Humanities
Breadth Requirements: Creative and Cultural Representations (1)

MCS329 | Internship in Material Culture

Internship in Material Culture
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). This course is restricted to students enrolled in the Material Culture and Semiotics program. Not eligible for CR/NCR option.

This course is available in the following formats, based on the nature of the internship:
MCS329H1F - 0.5 credit, taken in the Fall semester
MCS329H1S - 0.5 credit, taken in the Spring semester
MCS329Y1Y - 1 credit, taken over Fall and Spring in an academic year

Prerequisite: Completion of 9 FCE; Enrolled in the Material Culture minor
Exclusion: VIC329H1/VIC329Y1
Distribution Requirement: Humanities, Social Science

MCS330H1F | Topics in Material Culture: Materiality of Information

Topics in Material Culture
Materiality of Information
Professor Cory Lewis
R 10-12

This course will focus on hands-on, interactive assignments exploring the history of information technologies. Students will be asked to test out making clay tablets, using quill pens, and other information systems from the past. Our working hypothesis will be that practical activities give us access to ways of understanding information technologies that merely reading about them cannot.

Prerequisite: Completion of 9.0 credits
Distribution Requirements: Social Science
Breadth Requirements: Thought, Belief and Behaviour (2)

MCS373H1S | Materialities of Music

Materialities of Music
Professor Ellen Lockhart
W 11-1

Music is often understood as the most ephemeral and transcendent of the fine arts, even if that means overlooking the physical realities of music's production and dissemination. We will examine these materialities here, from paper and technologies of print, through to instruments for making and studying sound, and architectural spaces for its market circulation; we will see how music and its instruments provided the raw material for the emergence of a nineteenth-century science of acoustics.

Prerequisite: Completion of 9.0 credits
Recommended Preparation: 0.5 credit in Creative Expression and Society, Material Culture, or Music.
Exclusion: VIC373H1
Distribution Requirements: Humanities
Breadth Requirements: Creative and Cultural Representations (1)

MCS444H1S | Themes in Material Culture

Themes in Material Culture
Professor Cathie Sutton
T 10-1

This 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: Completion of 9.0 credits including MCS224Y1MCS225Y1, or permission of instructor
Exclusion: VIC444H1
Distribution Requirement Status: Humanities, Social Science
Breadth Requirement: Creative and Cultural Representations (1)

Material Culture Internships

If you're interested in completing an internship through the MCS329 - Internship in Material Culture course as part of your Minor in Material Culture and Semiotics, please contact

These internships are practical or experiential learning opportunities completed under the supervision of a faculty member, normally at a museum, art gallery or other cultural agency.

Past Internship Projects

Completed MCS Internship Projects

Internship with the Ontario Heritage Trust MCS329Y1 2021-22

The internship at the Ontario Heritage Trust (OHT) consisted of a few interconnected stages, focusing mainly on learning every step of artefact documentation and care. The project initially focused on an analysis and documentation of the window coverings at one of the OHT sites, Fool’s Paradise The object reports were created for future use at the OHT to support their conservation and preservation work.

MCS intern Erin Case did research on conservation, repair, and replacement of curtains at heritage site

Digital Cataloguing Worksheet Used by the OHT

The next stage consisted of artefact handling and photographic documentation at the Elgin/Winter Garden Taking everything out of a display room, the intern was instructed on artefact handling and cleaning best practices, as well as how to take museum standard photographs. During the second half of the internship, the intern was trained in the OHT’s collections database protocol and data entry, and worked with their database, M3 Online. Over the course of several months, the intern inputted around half of the object worksheets from one site that had not previously been in the database. Throughout the internship, the intern worked both by herself and with her supervisor to complete tasks and develop practical skills that enhanced her learning in museum studies and material culture.

View from the window of Fools Paradise the former of home of Canadian artist Doris McCarthy

Dionysis Disclosed by Niki Wickramasinghe
Project website:

Psychical Research Project by Sophia Arts
Project website:
Sophia Arts did her internship at the Fisher Rare Book Library in 2020-21. The library asked Sophia to take over the Fisher Instagram account to share her research on a collection of Victorian books on ghosts and the supernatural. Please follow the link to see more about this unusual and fascinating research.

Names and Respect: The Archivist’s Role by Emily Grenon
Project: Names and Respect: The Archivist's Role [PDF]
Emily Grenon, a fourth year MC minor and History major, did her internship at the Pratt Library Archives transcribing the correspondence of the Indigenous missionary, Peter Jones. Emily turned her research into a poster that she presented at the Ontario Archives Association Conference at the conclusion of her internship.

Student Testimonials

“During my internship at the Royal Canadian Military Institute, I had the chance to gain a thorough understanding of various aspects of museum operations and logistics. I was able to apply some of my knowledge from Material Culture courses and expand on it by getting feedback and learning from a professional in the field. I assisted the museum with updating their online catalogue and documenting their collection. This included learning about museum software and the process of photographing artifacts. Additionally, I had the opportunity to learn about, and assist with, the planning and installation of a new exhibition. From this, I became familiar with the process of developing an interpretive plan, and the importance of small details such as object placements, word choice, etc. I decided to apply this to my final research project and discuss the museum’s own interpretive plan by analyzing the presentation of two important objects. This internship opportunity allowed me to experience working in a museum environment, and gain the knowledge and preparation needed to be successful in the museum and heritage sectors.”

Right: Photographying helmet for museum online catalogue
Left: MCS student assisted with installation of WW1 exhibit


"My internship project was focused on exploring and researching the settlement and material cultures of Black settlers, mainly those associated with the Dawn Settlement, in Southwestern Ontario (Dresden/Chatham-Kent) in the mid to late nineteenth century. I was supervised by Dena Doroszenko, a Senior Archaeologist at the Ontario Heritage Trust (OHT), Katherine Patton, an associate professor of anthropology at UofT, and Lisa Small, a graduate student and activist archaeologist, I worked on three different projects to do this. First, I wrote object biographies for objects under the care of the OHT, and then I conducted interviews with community members to add to the previous research I had done, as well as contribute to an oral history project. I also utilized the interviews to compile a list of sites of archaeological potential in the area. This internship project was a wonderful experience in strengthening my research skills in the humanities and social sciences and applying the theory I learned in my courses, as well as in learning about Black Canadian history in Ontario. The help and encouragement I received from my supervisors and course coordinator was key in helping me to complete and enjoy my project even with the challenges that come with doing this research remotely."


"Thanks to my minor in Material Culture, I was able to get my first professional experience interning at Casa Loma in the winter semester of 2021. Throughout the internship, I worked closely with one of the castle’s curators to research the history and material culture of four different rooms within the castle. Our research focused closely on the material culture of business, the upper-class, and the Edwardian era. Following this research, we were able to plan and develop a new audio guide system for the castle. I was also able to write an audio guide for each of the rooms I had researched! I am now continuing my work at Casa Loma throughout the summer, and I am thankful to have gained so many connections, analytical, and professional skills from the experience."