Unlocking the Window: Material Engagement and Historical Technology in the Digital Age

Sunday, January 6, 2019: 9:20 AM
Williford A (Hilton Chicago)
Joseph Ho, Albion College
A late 19th century American studio camera. 78rpm phonograph records. Frayed and faded consumer paintings from late imperial China. A set of Chinese men’s clothing from the 1930s. Where do these quotidian “things” belong in the history classroom? What does it mean to teach with historical technology and materials? How do hands-on demonstrations expand the scholarly imaginations of undergraduate students - especially those whose prior experiences have largely centered on digital devices and born-digital content? In this paper, I will discuss the teaching possibilities of technical and material engagement, drawing from artifact-based approaches in my courses on modern Chinese history and global visual culture. I will cover the kinds of interdisciplinary scaffolding needed to prepare students to work with “the social life of things” (to borrow a phrase from Arjun Appadurai) as well as the unexpected, often pleasantly surprising learning outcomes from these activities. Each of the materials listed above will be discussed as case studies, bringing together methods of engagement, student responses, and open-ended perspectives on the fresh roles of materiality in historical pedagogy.