Material Histories

Material Histories of Home Economics, A Center for Design and Material Culture Research Workshop, 2021-2022

For the 2021-2022 academic year the Center for Design and Material Culture in the School of Human Ecology at the University of Wisconsin Madison invited proposals for essays and other research-based projects that explore the material culture foundation of home economics and its subsequent transformations as schools of human ecology (application window closed August 1, 2021). Accepted participants will be invited to participate in a virtual bi-weekly meeting in which papers will be workshopped with an eye to publishing an edited collection on this topic. Led by Professors Sarah Anne Carter and Marina Moskowitz, the edited collection will explore the connections between material culture and human ecology, and the ways in which the historical connections inform the present and future of both areas of study.

Home economics developed in the late nineteenth century as a course of study on US university campuses focused on applying Progressive Era desires for efficiency and social care to all aspects of home life. While scholars have looked at the ways in which this movement allowed women to engage in academic pursuits with new authority, or to reimagine the home as scientific, among other topics, an important aspect of this movement has been overlooked: its material history.

This workshop will explore the material lessons that were taught through the idea of home. Topics include: changing ideas about object-based epistemology; economic theories and applications; race, racism, power, and the home; domestic advice; disability; making and the home; histories of gender, sexuality, and the family; the role of making and design in daily life; the study of textiles; interior architecture and design; children’s experiences in the home; domestic economy and consumerism (among other topics…). What can we learn from the study of home? How does this relate to histories of material culture and modes of object-based knowledge? Where do these object-based modes of study exist in the 21st century university?

Participants will receive a modest honorarium and will be expected to attend biweekly meetings or talks, present a workshopped paper to the group, and offer feedback on others’ papers. Graduate students from UW-Madison and other Big Ten Academic Alliance participants may be able to arrange for course credit for participation. Final projects may take a variety of forms, from a traditional academic essay to visual forms of scholarly communication to explorations of particular sources, as long as they can be reproduced within the material parameters of a book. These final projects will be due for publication in June of 2022.

Call for proposals closed on August 1, 2021. For questions, contact Sarah Anne Carter ( and Marina Moskowitz (