As part of a series of case studies titled “In the Humanities Classroom,” this contribution reports in detail on the initial class taught by the author in the spring of 2015, during her time at Princeton University as a visiting lecturer in art history. By presenting students with three sets of devotional materials—two papier-mâché medallions painted by nuns at the convent of Wienhausen in northern Germany on the eve of the Reformation; a n'kisi n'kondi figure from the Yombe group of Kongo peoples in the nineteenth-century; and a description, taken from Marilynne Robinson's novel Gilead, of a child baptizing kittens with creek water—the instructor raises questions about how materials convey holiness and influence viewers or worshippers. She prods history and literature students, both graduate and undergraduate, to take physical objects seriously as evidence, and she challenges those in art history to study objects and also texts normally regarded as outside of their purview.
Caroline Walker Bynum; TEACHING ABOUT OBJECTS. Common Knowledge 1 January 2017; 23 (1): 67–74. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/0961754X-3692155
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