Let me start with a disclosure: I did my M.A. in Art History at the University of Wisconsin and am now a Ph.D. candidate in the Art History department at the University of Minnesota. Furthermore, my experiences, in terms of my research interests and the scholars with whom I have worked and currently work, are based in American material culture. Individuals in other disciplines and at other institutions may have wildly different experiences. In discussing my experiences and acknowledging the wide-ranging ways that one encounters material culture in the academy, it may be useful to have an umbrella organization that can bring scholars together, because material culture theories, methods, and interests vary widely. “Doing” material culture is not easily explained, given the fact that “doing” varies dizzyingly across disciplines.
Doing at the University of Wisconsin is formalized. It has an interdisciplinary Material Culture Certificate Program, made up of faculty from across the humanities and based in the Art History department under the direction of Ann Smart Martin. There is also a Material Culture Student Focus Group. Methodologies presented in core courses are very much influenced by the faculty’s personal and professional connections to the University of Delaware, the Winterthur Program in American Material Culture, and Yale University. In contrast, doing material culture at Minnesota lacks such formality: there are no certificate program or student groups (that I’m aware of). Material culture is certainly engaged across the humanities here, but in terms of interdisciplinary courses that are advertised across the campus: none to my knowledge. There is only one graduate-level seminar, offered through Art History.
My experiences in engaging with material culture over the past five years in graduate school does lead me to wonder how other colleges and universities around the globe teach material culture, incorporate material culture across time and geography, as well as material culture’s status at these institutions. What does global material culture studies look like? I don’t know, but I would like to.