Design History

Design History is divided into two 7-week modules that will allow students to experience two different approaches to the subject. Students will shift from one module to another at midterm. Guest lecturers may be invited throughout the semester for joint sessions. Arena 1: Throughout history, designers have created images, objects and systems to fill human needs. We begin by examining needs as basic as food, shelter, illumination, communication and mobility, but will also address more complex issues of persuasion, pleasure and mortality (among others). Class readings will be both academic and popular in style, culled from a variety of historic and contemporary sources. The focus will be on the 20th and 21st centuries, though at times we will stretch back as early as prehistory to establish historic points of reference for our subjects. In addition, there will be a weekly "object lesson," analyzing and discussing iconic objects related to the week's subject. Arena 2: This module explores design's intersection with the idea and practice of History itself, critically scrutinizing design's role in shaping modes of attention, memory and narrative. We begin with a study of metric time and the history of time-keeping in preparation for readings and discussions focusing on changes in the experience and perception of time since, especially, industrialization and, more recently, digitization. The module culminates in a discussion of present-day and potential future questions of time and memory in the face of rapid technological innovation. Class readings will support assignments modeled after Einstein's thought experiments in which students may include visual, virtual and/or material responses in addition to writing.