detail of embroidery with two lions

Material Culture Program

Certificates in Material Culture

Undergraduate and Graduate Certificates in Material Culture allow UW students to explore diverse ways of making sense of the material world. 

B& W motorcycle

Material Culture Courses

Material Culture refers to an interdisciplinary set of methods and may be found in departments across campus. 

preparator installing work in design gallery

What is Material Culture?

“Material Culture” refers to the physical traces of the past. This includes diverse, scholarly approaches for studying those physical traces. These may be things that humans have found, adapted, created, or shaped for their use. It is both the stuff of the past, and a set of methods to study them. As an interdisciplinary set of methods, students study the material world through courses in history, design studies, art history, anthropology, art, literature, biology, and more.

“This is Not a Chair” Video

“This is Not a Chair” is a pedagogical film created as part of the collaborative Tangible Things material culture project, which included a series of classes, an EdX course, a museum exhibit, and a book. In this short film, Harvard University Teaching Fellows Cara Fallon, John Bell, Chris Allison, and Carla Cevasco interpret chairs from the Collection of the Chipstone Foundation through various disciplinary lenses. The Tangible Things project was created by Laurel Ulrich, Ivan Gaskell, Sara Schechner and CDMC director, Dr. Sarah Anne Carter.

History of Material Culture at UW

The University of Wisconsin–Madison has a long history of supporting material culture pedagogy and research under the guidance of Professor Ann Smart Martin. Professor Martin is the founding director of the UW–Material Culture Program and Material Culture Faculty Group. Learn more about our pioneers in material culture.