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Course Information

Instructor Info:Rachel Engmann
Term: 2014S
Meeting Info: Tuesday Thursday
09:00 AM - 10:20 AM Franklin Patterson Hall (FPH) 101
09:00 AM - 10:20 AM Franklin Patterson Hall (FPH) 101

What is the connection between the consumption of colonial postcards in Senegal, cosmetic products in Zimbabwe, African-American bric-a-brac during segregation, second-hand clothing in Zambia, Coca-Cola in Trinidad, and African art in New York? This course examines two central themes for material culture studies: commodities and consumption. Consumption is a process that enables people to reproduce themselves as social beings, as well as the maintenance and reproduction of social relationships, giving commodities 'value'. This course adopts an historical approach, tracing the evolution of the study of commodities and consumption in Africa and the African Diaspora. How does object consumption take on new meanings in different historical, political, social and economic contexts? How does the consumption of objects document ties spanning the seemingly remote into the global community? What is the relationship between consumption, commodities and identity? Adopting approaches from the disciplines of history, archaeology, anthropology and material culture studies, we explore the consumption of commodities as a politicized process addressing issues such as colonialism, globalization, citizenship, race, ethnicity, class, gender, power and inequality.

Course Objectives:

Course Requirements

There are no prerequisites for the course.  Students are expected to attend all class lectures and complete all assigned readings.  This course will combine lecture with discussions of the readings.  Lectures will highlight the major issues raised in the readings as well as provide supplementary examples.  The course is designed to develop skills in close reading. 

In this course, students are expected to spend at least six hours a week of preparation and work outside of class time.  This time includes reading, writing, group assignments, creative projects and an occasional film.

All readings listed for the week should be completed prior to class meetings.  Readings will be examined more fully during class discussion.  General questions to think about concerning the readings will be provided each week in class and posted on the course website.  Come to class prepared to discuss readings thoughtfully, critically and respectfully.  Everyone’s views and perspectives deserve to be heard.

Work will be assessed through class participation (20%), one class presentation (15 mins, 20%), a poster presentation (20%), and final research paper (12 pages, 40%).  The course provides a supportive environment in which to practice your skills at written exposition, classroom debate and public presentations.  Class presentations should be formal and polished, reflecting critical reading and demonstrating the significance for our discussion.  The schedule for class presentations will be determined in the third week of class.  Final paper topics must be approved in advance by the instructor.  The final research paper will be due on April 24, 2014.

Course Texts

Lecture readings to be done by the beginning of the week assigned.

Readings will be available at library reserves and in a password-protected forum on a website established in association with this seminar.



Additional Info:


‘The Dark Side of Chocolate’, Miki Mistrati and U. Roberto Romano

‘Welcome to Nollywood’, Jamie Meltzer