Tangible Things: Discovering History Through Artworks, Artifacts, Scientific Specimens, and the Stuff Around You

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Harvard University




Free (certificate fee: USD$ 49, optional)

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This course describes how material objects have shaped academic disciplines by reinforcing or challenging boundaries between people. It is offered by Harvard University through edX, an online education platform.

In the first section of the course, participants are taught how a statue, a fish, and a gingham gown have contributed to Harvard’s history. In the next section, the course elaborates on some of the ways people have brought things together into purposeful collections to preserve memory, promote commerce, and define culture. It concludes with the methods of rearranging objects to create new ways of thinking about nature, time, and ordinary work. Through the course, participants are exposed to the new ways of looking at, organizing, and interpreting tangible things in your own environment.

Some of the questions addressed in the course are:

  • 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?