NEH Summer Institute 2017
We at Bard Graduate Center are delighted to host American Material Culture: Nineteenth-Century New York. This four-week National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Institute (July 3–28, 2017) offers eighteen college and university educators an opportunity to explore the use of material culture, both in their research and as an instructional medium, using New York City as their lab.
The goal of this Institute is to bring the exciting field of material culture studies into wider use for both teaching and research in the humanities. It will focus on the material culture of the nineteenth century, using New York City as its case study. Then as now, the city was a national center for fashioning cultural commodities and promoting consumer tastes, and we will explore this rich material record through field trips and exclusive sessions with curators. Summer Scholars will study significant texts in the scholarship of material culture, develop their own skills in artifact analysis, and explore material culture pedagogy through hands-on activities and discussion. Leading scholars and practitioners will join our interdisciplinary research community as guest faculty; there will be plenty of opportunities for conversation about their research and teaching, and about Summer Scholars’ research interests.
Whether you have some experience with object-based work, or you have never taught with or studied material culture, you are welcome to apply. This website offers a brief overview of our plans for the Institute along with other information on logistical matters such as housing.
Scholars of material culture utilize all kinds of things—from postcards to skyscrapers—as rich, evocative sources for understanding societies and cultures, past and present. Material culture studies embraces social and cultural history; historical archaeology; anthropology and folklore; art and architectural history; literature; and cultural studies. And the study of material culture is an integral part of the expanding world of public humanities scholarship as it is practiced in collecting institutions and in digital media. Collections in museums and historic sites preserve the historical visual and material record, and they are powerful vehicles for student learning in person and online.
As folklorist Henry Glassie puts it, "We live in material culture, depend upon it, take it for granted, and realize through it our grandest aspirations." Artifacts are extensions of our bodies, but they are also extensions of human minds in all their complexity. Through material culture, and through the ways that we engage in social performance using objects, we represent ourselves to ourselves, and to each other. Recent humanities-based scholarship on material culture demonstrates a growing emphasis on studies of people-object relations with a concurrent use of an ethnographic approach to objects. Most recently, scholars have explored the idea that objects have "social lives," careers, or trajectories whereby their roles and meanings change over time.
Yet the study of objects made or modified by human beings remains underutilized by humanists. The assumption is that coming to, and succeeding in, the study of things as an established scholar is difficult. This National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Institute 2017, American Material Culture: Nineteenth-Century New York, addresses this concern in a collaborative setting where experimentation is welcome. The Institute faculty will help Summer Scholars broaden the use of American material in their teaching and research, offering a variety of experiences in "learning to look" at the material and visual record. Our goal is to expand the ranks of college teachers who use these wonderful materials for their teaching and scholarship in a rigorous and meaningful way, and who can pass along training to their own students in turn.
The Institute’s daily sessions will include seminar-style conversations and lectures; hands-on experiences and activities promoting innovative classroom practice; individual consultations between faculty and participants; and field trips to museums and historic sites that collect the material culture of greater New York (e.g., walking tours and tours of special exhibitions). We are especially interested in fostering creative material culture pedagogy in the classroom, in public collections, and through digital media. Some sessions will encourage experiential learning and play with objects, while others will invite participants to explore digital avenues for teaching material culture, or to develop blended approaches that combine hands-on and digital work. The digital turn in the humanities has actually increased the visibility of material culture studies in recent years. Online museum collection catalogs and sophisticated digital exhibitions make available, in a virtual form, more material culture for use by college teachers and extend the possibilities for suggestive encounters with artifacts. Further, the rise of open source platforms such as WordPress and Omeka makes it easy for faculty and students to develop their own digital exhibitions and projects and join the public conversations about material culture.
While nineteenth-century New York City will serve as our case study for the four weeks of the Institute, we will explore important issues of broad curricular impact that go well beyond New York and can be applied by Summer Scholars to their own locales. For example, we will study the material culture of ethnicity, race, and class by visiting a range of cultural institutions and historic places. These sites will include the New-York Historical Society, the Museum of Chinese in America, and the Tenement Museum on the Lower East Side, which interprets the complex ethnicity of the neighborhood’s nineteenth-century inhabitants. During each visit, participants will study objects with the aid of those institutions’ staff. We also will tour the site of Seneca Village in Central Park, once a thriving antebellum African American and Irish immigrant community. Further, New York’s role as a national center of cultural production in the nineteenth century means that its products—the popular prints of lithography firms such as those of Currier and Ives, the products of metropolitan furniture shops, the readymade clothing sewn in Lower East side sweat shops—increasingly reached a national market of consumers, allowing participants to consider the relationship between regional and national taste cultures.
These projects are designed primarily for teachers of American undergraduate students. Qualified independent scholars and those employed by museums, libraries, historical societies, and other organizations may be eligible to compete provided they can effectively advance the teaching and research goals of the seminar or institute.
Applicants must be United States citizens, residents of U.S. jurisdictions, or foreign nationals who have been residing in the United States or its territories for at least the three years immediately preceding the application deadline. Foreign nationals teaching abroad at non-U.S. chartered institutions are not eligible to apply.
Please note: At least three seminar spaces and at least five institute spaces are reserved for non-tenure-track/adjunct faculty members.
An applicant need not have an advanced degree in order to qualify. Adjunct and part-time lecturers are eligible to apply. Individuals may not apply to an NEH Summer Seminar or Institute whose director is affiliated with the same institution or is a family member. Individuals must not apply to seminars directed by scholars with whom they have studied. Institute selection committees are advised that only under the most compelling and exceptional circumstances may an individual participate in an institute with a director or a lead faculty member who has guided that individual’s research or in whose previous institute or seminar he or she has participated.
To be considered eligible, applicants must submit a complete application. This includes an NEH cover sheet and the additional materials requested on the individual seminar or institute website.
We encourage scholars from any field who are interested in material culture, regardless of disciplinary, regional, or chronological specialization, to apply to the National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Institute, American Material Culture: Nineteenth-Century New York. While those based in American Studies, history, art history, literature, and anthropology might find this program especially attractive, participants need not have extensive prior knowledge of the Institute’s subject matter or have previously incorporated the study of material culture into their courses or scholarship. However, your application essay should identify concrete ways in which four weeks of concentration on this topic will enhance your teaching and/or research. The ideal American Material Culture: Nineteenth-Century New York participant will bring to the group a fresh understanding of this topic that is relevant to their own work.
Please note: American Material Culture: Nineteenth-Century New York accepts a maximum of eighteen Summer Scholars. NEH Summer Institutes are designed primarily for teachers of American undergraduate students. Adjunct and part-time lecturers are encouraged to apply. Qualified independent scholars and those employed by museums, libraries, historical societies and other organizations may be eligible to compete provided they can effectively advance the teaching and research goals of the Institute.
Stipends and Housing
National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Scholars will receive the NEH-stipulated stipend of $3,300 to help cover their expenses during the four weeks of the Institute, American Material Culture: Nineteenth-Century New York. The first check will be paid upon arrival and the second during the third week.
Institute participants in need of accommodations may stay at Bard Graduate Center’s residence facility, Bard Hall, located at 410 West 58th Street. Scholars will be assigned to a shared two-bedroom apartment. Each bedroom is furnished with an extra-long twin bed, chest of drawers, night table, desk with chair and lamp, and full-length mirror. Scholars will share a bathroom, living room, and kitchen area, outfitted with a small dining table with two chairs, two lounge chairs, sofa, side table, bookcase, oven/stove and refrigerator. Apartments have internet service. The building is equipped with 24-hour security, a double-height lounge that opens onto a landscaped outdoor space, an exercise room, conference and study rooms, and laundry facilities.
For Summer Scholars who choose to stay at Bard Hall, the cost for the duration of the NEH Institute is $1400 per person. For those who wish to arrange their own accommodations, New York University offers some summer housing.
We encourage Summer Scholars to bring laptop computers. Bard Graduate Center has installed a wireless network throughout the facilities. Those who do not bring laptops will have access to computers in Bard Graduate Center Library and the Digital Media Lab, and printers are also available.
Bard Graduate Center will host opening and closing banquets. Weekly lunches will provide opportunities to meet visiting faculty. We also envision facilitating optional evening sessions and excursions. These informal activities may include dinners with speakers, additional museum visits, and outings to relevant sites that will further enliven material understanding of nineteenth-century New York City.
Please direct all application inquiries to: email@example.com, and for more details visit the Application Instructions and Contact Information page.
Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this program do not necessarily reflect those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.
National Endowment for the Humanities: Application Information and Instructions
All other application materials must be submitted directly to Bard Graduate Center.
Bard Graduate Center: Additional Application Requirements and Instructions
Application Materials: In addition to filling out the NEH Cover Sheet online, applications must also include a copy of the NEH Cover Sheet in their Bard Graduate Center applications. We ask that participants prepare a Résumé and Application Essay, which are to be submitted directly to Bard Graduate Center. Bard Graduate Center also requires Two Letters of Reference, sent directly to us (see instructions below). In your application materials, please include the contact information for your two referees.
How to Submit an Application: The preferred method for application submission to Bard Graduate Center is via email. Please combine your application materials into a single PDF file (this includes the completed NEH Cover Sheet, Résumé, Application Essay, and the contact information for your two referees) and email to: firstname.lastname@example.org. However, applications can be mailed to:
NEH Summer Institute
Bard Graduate Center
38 West 86th Street
New York, NY 10024
Reference Letters: The two referees may be from inside or outside the applicant’s home institution. They should be familiar with the applicant's professional accomplishments and promise, teaching and/or research interests, and ability to contribute to and benefit from participation in the National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Institute 2017, American Material Culture: Nineteenth-Century New York. Referees should be provided with the Project Directors’ description of the Institute and the applicant's essay.
How to Submit Reference Letters: The preferred method for submission of Reference Letters is for your referees to email them directly to Bard Graduate Center. Please ask your referees to sign their letters, convert them to PDF format, and email them to: email@example.com. Letters can also be mailed to the address listed above. If mailed, please ask your referees to sign across the seal on the back of the envelope containing the letter.
Admissions: A local committee of scholars will review your application. Incomplete applications will not be considered. We will inform you of their decision on Friday, March 31, 2017. Those selected to be NEH Summer Scholars will have until April 7, 2016 to accept or decline an offer.
Essay: Please note that the admissions committee will pay special attention to your Application Essay. This essay should include any personal, academic, and professional information that is relevant; reasons for applying to American Material Culture: Nineteenth-Century New York; your intellectual, professional, and personal interest in the topic; qualifications to do the work of the Institute and to make a contribution to it; what you hope to accomplish by participation, including a brief description of a potential Institute project; and the relation of the project to your research and/or teaching.
We look forward to hearing more about your interest in American Material Culture: Nineteenth-Century New York.
Please direct all application inquiries to
Zahava Friedman-Stadler, Grant Administrator and Program Assistant
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