Harvard University: Tangible Things: Discovering History Through Artworks, Artifacts, Scientific Specimens, and the Stuff Around You
Gain an understanding of history, museum studies, and curation by looking at, organizing, and interpreting art, artifacts, scientific curiosities, and the stuff of everyday life.
Tangible Things: Discovering History Through Artworks, Artifacts, Scientific Specimens, and the Stuff Around You
About this courseSkip About this course
Have you ever wondered about how museum, library, and other kinds of historical or scientific collections all come together? Or how and why curators, historians, archivists, and preservationists do what they do?
In Tangible Things , you will discover how material objects have shaped academic disciplines and reinforced or challenged boundaries between people. This course will draw on some of the most fascinating items housed at Harvard University, highlighting several to give you a sense of the power of learning through tangible things.
By “stepping onto” the storied campus, you and your fellow learners can explore Harvard’s astonishing array of tangible things—books and manuscripts, art works, scientific specimens, ethnographic artifacts, and historical relics of all sorts. The University not only owns a Gutenberg bible, but it also houses in its collections Turkish sun dials, a Chinese crystal ball, a divination basket from Angola, and nineteenth-century “spirit writing” chalked on a child-sized slate. Tucked away in storage cabinets or hidden in closets and the backrooms of its museums and libraries are Henry David Thoreau’s pencil, a life mask of Abraham Lincoln, and chemicals captured from a Confederate ship. The Art Museums not only care for masterpieces of Renaissance painting but also for a silver-encrusted cup made from a coconut. The Natural History Museum not only preserves dinosaur bones and a fish robot but an intact Mexican tortilla more than a century old.
In the first section of the course, we will consider how a statue, a fish, and a gingham gown have contributed to Harvard’s history, and you will learn the value of stopping to look at the things around you.
In the next section, we will explore some of the ways people have brought things together into purposeful collections to preserve memory, promote commerce, and define culture.
Finally, we will consider methods of rearranging objects to create new ways of thinking about nature, time, and ordinary work.
Along the way, you will discover new ways of looking at, organizing, and interpreting tangible things in your own environment.
HarvardX requires individuals who enroll in its courses on edX to abide by the terms of the edX honor code. HarvardX will take appropriate corrective action in response to violations of the edX honor code, which may include dismissal from the HarvardX course; revocation of any certificates received for the HarvardX course; or other remedies as circumstances warrant. No refunds will be issued in the case of corrective action for such violations. Enrollees who are taking HarvardX courses as part of another program will also be governed by the academic policies of those programs.
HarvardX pursues the science of learning. By registering as an online learner in an HX course, you will also participate in research about learning. Read our research statement to learn more.
Harvard University and HarvardX are committed to maintaining a safe and healthy educational and work environment in which no member of the community is excluded from participation in, denied the benefits of, or subjected to discrimination or harassment in our program. All members of the HarvardX community are expected to abide by Harvard policies on nondiscrimination, including sexual harassment, and the edX Terms of Service. If you have any questions or concerns, please contact email@example.com and/or report your experience through the edX contact form.
At a glance
What you'll learnSkip What you'll learn
- Understanding of museum curation approaches
- The basics of historical analysis and interpretation
- A sense of the work that historians, curators, and collectors perform
- Strong critical thinking and analytical skills
- How things that seem to belong to different disciplines actually can “talk” to one another
- How close looking at even a single object can push beyond academic and disciplinary boundaries
- How things that may seem unrelated to each other can show relationships between art and science, economics, and culture, as well as between people in many different parts of the world