I just got word of what sounds to me like very possibly the best class in the world. Robert Hicks, director of that most wonderful of American museums the Mütter Museum, will be teaching a class this July for the continuing education department of the Philadelphia, PA called "What Things Mean: The Material Culture of Science." The class-- which appears to be open to all--will utilize the incredibly rich collections of, among other museums, the Mütter, to instruct pupils in the working methods and practice of material culture study.
Students in this class, which runs for 6 days from Tuesday July 14 through Thursday July 23, will have the rare opportunity of working directly with the collections and curators of three of Philadelphia's most interesting museums---the Mütter Museum, the American Philosophical Society, and the Chemical Heritage Foundation. They are invited to, as the class description explains, "investigate the history of science through [the] material culture of artifacts, images and specimens" as encountered in these collections. Instruction will take place via "guided discussions and exercises [...] conducted with museum curators and educators in an inquiry-based format that begins with examining the essential properties and characteristics of objects, followed by questions about their esthetic, symbolic, and sociological meanings."
Artifacts examined in the class--which will meet at the three museums on alternating days for a full 9:30-5 schedule--"may include scientific instruments, materials, machinery... anatomical specimens, models or simulations, manuscripts, correspondence, fine art, ...illustrations and other images, or personal memorabilia." Each student will complete a final project of their choice "based on any component of the collections examined."
The possibilities are endless. A study of pathological waxworks (see above, from the Mütter backroom)? An examination of an ancient natural history specimen from the American Philosophical Society? As I said: Best Class Ever!
Here is the full class description, as described by the syllabus:
"What Things Mean: The Material Culture of Science"Find out more about the class and how to enroll by clicking here; you can find out yet more and read the full syllabus by clicking here. For those of you as-of-yet unfamiliar with the wonders of the amazing Mütter Museum, click here to visit their website. You can find out more about the other institutions, the American Philosophical Society and the Chemical Heritage Foundation, by clicking here and here, respectively.
Center City Museums
Start Date: Tue July 14
Instructors : Robert Hicks, Museum Educators and Curators
Tue Jul 14, Wed Jul 15, Thu Jul 16: 9:30 am - 5:00 pm
Tue Jul 21, Wed Jul 22, Thu Jul 23: 9:30 am - 5:00 pm
Students investigate the history of science through its material culture of artifacts, images, and specimens. Over six days—two each at the College of Physicians of Philadelphia (Mütter Museum), American Philosophical Society, and the Chemical Heritage Foundation—students will participate in guided discussions and practical exercises oriented to the collections of these institutions. Class exercises aim to demonstrate the value of artifact study as a means to investigate the history of science, technology, and medicine. Students will complete their own project based on any component of the collections examined, an object-study lesson plan that may be used to supplement classroom activities in history, science, social studies, or art classes. Guided discussions and exercises are conducted with museum curators and educators in an inquiry-based format that begins with examining the essential properties and characteristics of objects, followed by questions about their esthetic, symbolic, and sociological meanings.
Artifacts may include scientific instruments, materials, machinery, but the material culture of science includes anatomical specimens, models or simulations, manuscripts, correspondence, fine art (including scientific portraiture), illustrations and other images, or personal memorabilia. “The cultural analysis of artifacts requires students to probe for hidden beliefs, values, associations, and meanings. [David Pantalony, “What is it? Twentieth-century Artifacts out of Context,” History of Science Society Newsletter 37.3 (July 2008), p. 18.]
Guest speakers from the Philadelphia Area Center for History of Science member institutions may complement the discussions and exercises. Students’ grades are based on class participation, a final exam, and the lesson plan assignment.
No science or mathematical background is necessary for this course, but an aptitude for and interest in historical investigation is essential.
I am incredibly jealous of all those who live nearer to Philadelphia and will be able to take this class; I will take this class some day in the future, if it is offered again, even if I have to stay in a hotel to do so! If any Morbid Anatomy readers do end up taking this class, please, send me a report!
Image: Backroom at the Mütter Museum, From Anatomical Theatre