Jump to content
  • advertisement_alt
  • advertisement_alt
  • advertisement_alt

PhD Programs for Material Culture


Emmie
 Share

Recommended Posts

I applied to programs this season, but I wasn't accepted to any of them. I'm reevaluating what I want, and what programs would be good for me.

 

I'm interested in material culture (textiles and costume specifically) and museums. I have a BA in Art History, and will be finishing my MA degree in Folklore in a month.

 

I think I'd like to move back to an Art History program for my PhD, but have been having trouble finding Art History programs with material culture contingencies. Does anyone out there have advice for what programs I might look at?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Bard does have a lovely program (I was accepted there for my MA, didn't end up going b/c of funding issues), but I'm not sure it's right for me.

 

I would like to go into museums as a career, but I wouldn't rule out a teaching position somewhere down the line. Because Bard in NYC is separate from the college, there don't seem to really be opportunities with being a TA or teaching your own class. Based on friends' processes applying for jobs, I know it's important to have prior teaching experience on your resume.

 

It also worries me that Bard is a stand-alone program. It's nice that Bard is so specialized, but I'd also like the freedom to collaborate with other departments across the humanities.

 

If there are any Bard students floating around gradcafe, perhaps you could dispell or confirm these assertions.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I applied to programs this season, but I wasn't accepted to any of them. I'm reevaluating what I want, and what programs would be good for me.

 

I'm interested in material culture (textiles and costume specifically) and museums. I have a BA in Art History, and will be finishing my MA degree in Folklore in a month.

 

I think I'd like to move back to an Art History program for my PhD, but have been having trouble finding Art History programs with material culture contingencies. Does anyone out there have advice for what programs I might look at?

 

i know this is a totally generic question that you've probably thought a lot about... but... why do you want to think about "material culture" from within an art history department? and which scholars, working within art history departments, are asking the sorts of questions you care most about? let the answers to these questions guide where you apply... and worry less about the program as a whole having an explicitly "material culture" focus.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

U. Del has the Center for Material Culture Studies, an interdisciplinary institute which works across Art History.  They also have the Winterthur Program in American Material Culture.  This is an MA, of course, but if you're at U. Del, you might have the opportunity to work with Winterthur's textile specialists and virtually unmatched resources.

 

Are you an Americanist? The American Studies PhD at BU is also known for "a particularly strong commitment to the study of Art History, offering a comprehensive curriculum that covers courses in material culture..."  http://www.bu.edu/amnesp/phd/amnesp-introduction/

 

I also agree with qwer7890's post.  Very few AH programs, especially at the PhD level, have an explicitly material culture focus as a component to the curriculum.  You may have to seek out scholars who incorporate the material culture approach into their work, or who are willing to support that focus.  They're definitely out there!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

FannyCornforth- Thanks so much for your suggestion! UW's program looks intriguing, I've put it on my list of programs to explore further.

 

qwer7890 and napoleon87- You both make valid points. I guess my main worry is I don't want to be an "island" in the department. I have already experienced that with my BA, and to some extent with my MA, and it's not something I'd like to go through again. While I've been able to successfully work within the system to make my work relevant to the work of those around me, I think I'm at the point where I'd like to be in a department where at least a couple classes would be offered that are more directly related to what I do. I feel like I've done the work to acquaint myself with the some of the literature surrounding material culture, but I've never been "formally" trained in it. Perhaps I'm placing too much emphasis on this, and maybe I've let some prior frustrating experiences sway what I think is imperative for me in a program.

 

And napoleon87- Incidentally, I am an Americanist! The program at BU does look like it could be good for me, and I've been curious about how American Studies would fit with what I do. I have a question though about American Studies versus Art History- if I think I would eventually like to work in a big name art museum, how would the American Studies degree be perceived (especially since my MA is also in another field)? Will it hinder me to not have a more rigorous Art History background? Or is an interdisciplinary background not as much of an issue as I'm afraid it will be?

 

Thanks so much for all your input everyone! It's nice to get some perspective on my predicament.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I think that is is totally fine if you want to do a dissertation on "material culture," but I worry that you won't have much luck getting into PhD programs, or on the job market, if you pigeon hole your self into such a small field. Even if you don't see yourself as an americanist you would benefit from marketing yourself as one. I don't think an American Studies degree will cut it if you want to work at a "big name" art museum. Maybe if you go to Yale, but I'd still go for the Art degree if you want to work at an Art museum. 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I'm going into a similar area, so I've been asking a lot of the same questions to people in the field and academic world (I work in a traditional, large art museum with curators who introduced me to material culture).  I have dual interests in AH and MC and intend to continue on in the art museum field. From what I've gathered, you can very much stay on an art historical route while partaking in interdisciplinary study.  It can, in fact, really strengthen you as a scholar to have both art history methodological training in addition to understanding material culture.  It's an approach after all, not a field.  I think a lot of making sure you don't pigeonhole yourself depends on how you mold your research (in any circumstance, I think it's probably advisable not to be too narrow). I'll send you a PM with further thoughts!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Have you considered looking into History, English, or Communications/Film departments?  My UG advisor in history focuses on material culture.  We actually talked a lot about it when I was debating between art history and history for graduate school.  She had many of the same considerations.  She ultimately went the history route because she still uses mostly texts in her work.  Material Culture is one of those areas that it very interdisciplinary that you many need to find a program that touts that as one of their guiding principles.  I know that I was rejected from at least one AH program for being perceived as too interdisciplinary.   Maybe think about what methodologies you employ in your work and then look for an advisor that matches...regardless of department.   You also might want to reach out to scholars that do what you want to do and get their opinions on how to proceed. Some will answer and some won't.   Good Luck!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Yale's Art History program has an American Decorative Art and Material Culture specialist (Ned Cooke), and they've added a Global Material Culture survey to their undergraduate offerings. There's also a Material and Visual Culture of Religion working group there (through the Institute of Sacred Music). 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Bard does have a lovely program (I was accepted there for my MA, didn't end up going b/c of funding issues), but I'm not sure it's right for me.

 

I would like to go into museums as a career, but I wouldn't rule out a teaching position somewhere down the line. Because Bard in NYC is separate from the college, there don't seem to really be opportunities with being a TA or teaching your own class. Based on friends' processes applying for jobs, I know it's important to have prior teaching experience on your resume.

 

From the Doctoral FAQ page:

 

8. Are there opportunities for doctoral students to teach, and are all doctoral students required to do so?

Yes, there are opportunities for doctoral students to teach at the BGC both as teaching assistants and as competitively-selected doctoral teaching fellows who offer their own graduate seminar. There are further undergraduate teaching possibilities at Bard College. Doctoral students are not required to teach, nor can it be guaranteed, but it is strongly encouraged as part of professional training.

 

So you can, indeed, teach at Bard. 

 

I have to say, Bard is doing some really innovative things with material culture. I am the head of a research group at my school and we brought in one of their professors to do a two-day workshop with us and it was one of the most enlightening and informative two days of my entire academic career. They have a lot of resources for students and if you're interested in curatorial practice, Bard has really done some stand-out exhibitions in their curriculum-linked gallery space.

 

Who are the scholars that you've been using in your last two degrees? I know it seems obvious, but I'd start by looking at their work and seeing where they're situated, who they have co-authored papers with, etc. History & theory of design programs may offer you more in terms of material culture studies than Art History.

Edited by happy little pill
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Thanks to everyone who has given advice on my predicament! I'm new to GradCafe, and I'm so pleased with the great community that's here.

 

It seems like I really need to think seriously about whether a traditional Art History program, a more interdisciplinary Art History program, or a different field would be best for my interests. Now that I've spent some time in Folklore (which is very interdisciplinary), perhaps it would be hard for me to transition back to a strict Art History program. So thanks for the advice terralily and Gundohinus, I've made some notes on my list of avenues to explore.

 

Thankfully I have some time to really mull things over before the next application season kicks into high gear.

 

And keep the input coming, I certainly welcome anyone who has perspective on this!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

happy little pill:

 

Thanks for the Bard info, apparently my research skills are a little shabby! I wonder how difficult it is to travel between Bard College and the NYC campus to get undergraduate seminar experience...

 

I didn't mean to put down Bard, it is a lovely program (which is why I did apply there a couple of years back for my MA). The work they do with the Focus Gallery seems like a good opportunity, and I'm sure the connections to other museum resources in NYC are a great incentive for BGC students as well.

 

And thanks for the suggestion on History & Theory of Design programs, I'll look into that. Are there any in particular that stick out to you as strong programs (especially with connections to the museum world)?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Although it's not a top-tier university, the University of Delaware has some excellent faculty in Material Culture in their Art History department and are connected closely to the Winterthur Museum. 

 

Design theory programs are something that you kind of need to research on your own because they cater to different areas - some are strong in deco arts, others in textiles, product/furniture design, urban shaping of the city, etc. For example, UMinn is interesting to me because I'm interested in fashion studies and they have several core faculty members working both in the theory and production of my specific area/period of interest, but if you aren't looking at clothing/textiles/housing, it wouldn't be the right fit for you.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

As others have pointed out above, the methods art historians take toward material culture are informed more by recent trends in critical theory than folklore is, so you should ask whether you want to interrogate objects as an art historian or folklorist (which in my mind is kind of a mashup of archaeology, sociology, and anthropology).

 

However, you have a BA in art history so you can frame yourself as exploring outside the discipline for your MA but still an art historian at heart. I would caution against applying to a "studies" type program, with the cuts to the humanities and social sciences of late I think staying within a recognized discipline is necessary these days.

 

For programs:

 

Yale: Jules Prown was a major influence on the art history side of material culture studies, I'd guess his presence still reverberates in the work that is done there. You might look into Jennifer Raab's (PhD Yale, Nemerov) interests.

Harvard: Jennifer Roberts (PhD Yale) is very interested in material culture and materiality. 

Delaware: the Winterthur program was another main progenitor of Americanist interest in material culture, and there's contact between the program and grad students at Delaware. You should check with their Americanist Wendy Bellion about your interests.

 

Other contenders:

 

BU: I believe that they just hired Ross Barrett (PhD BU) as a replacement for Pat Hills. I think he could be receptive and his work does contend with material objects and their agency in culture (mostly by injuring or killing people). You would also have the resources of the Boston museums to work with, so lots of the material of material culture.

Stanford: Alex Nemerov and Brian Wolf, both trained by Prown, are there. They tend toward the Freudian as many of Prown's (male) students tend to do.

 

Also you might just look for Prown's students who are in programs with PhDs and see whether they teach seminars in material culture or would be receptive to your interests. People that come to mind are Margaretta Lovell at Berkeley, Bruce Robertson at UCSB, Ken Haltmann at Oklahoma, etc...  

Link to comment
Share on other sites

 

qwer7890 and napoleon87- You both make valid points. I guess my main worry is I don't want to be an "island" in the department. I have already experienced that with my BA, and to some extent with my MA, and it's not something I'd like to go through again. While I've been able to successfully work within the system to make my work relevant to the work of those around me, I think I'm at the point where I'd like to be in a department where at least a couple classes would be offered that are more directly related to what I do. I feel like I've done the work to acquaint myself with the some of the literature surrounding material culture, but I've never been "formally" trained in it. Perhaps I'm placing too much emphasis on this, and maybe I've let some prior frustrating experiences sway what I think is imperative for me in a program.

 

 

I think that across the board right now, in art history departments and among foundations, there's a renewed interest in questions of "materiality" and "objects" (and napoleon87, you can probably speak better to this as you've just gone through the application cycle, quite successfully it appears :-) -- for example, the getty research intstitute's theme this year is "art and materiality": http://www.getty.edu/research/scholars/years/future.html-- a good barometer of where the field is....

 

which is to say, i don't think you'd be an "island" necessarily in an art history department -- your interests seem to align well with some of the most current trends in the field. so, if you do decide to apply to art history departments, it's still a question of coming up with a good account in your application essay of why the tools/methodologies of art history matter to the objects you care most about... 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I do believe there are some faculty members in other art history, visual studies, and visual cultures asking similar questions.  Delaware and Wisconsin are among the few.  Did you also look at potentially related programs such as American studies?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I would say that Bard or Delaware are the top material culture programs. All the material culture people I've met at museums I've worked at went to Bard or Delaware.

 

Otherwise, I don't know about your area of interest specifically, but Cornell has a "field" system rather than departments which allows for a more interdisciplinary approach (ie you could be in the art history department and work with faculty in history, american studies, etc) while stil getting a PhD in art history (http://arthistory.cornell.edu/graduate/fieldsystem.cfm)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
 Share

×
×
  • Create New...

Important Information

By using this site, you agree to our Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.