Cultural History

Cultural history at the University of Chicago is very broadly defined to embrace research and teaching on people’s efforts to create meaning and beauty, to express joy and sadness, and to communicate. Those efforts have taken an extraordinarily wide array of forms historically, including the fine arts, literature, music, and architecture, but also, everyday material culture, the built environment broadly defined (including garden, landscapes, and citycapes), and food. Film, radio, television, and other media became equally important In the twentieth century. The field’s preoccupation with interpreting and explaining cultural objects leads to intersections with intellectual and art history, literary and cinema studies, and musicology. Its interest in the institutional and social grounding of cultural production, as well as their political ramifications, necessitates engagement with social and political history. Our temporal and geographic range is equally broad, including all periods from the ancient to the contemporary and East and South Asia, Africa, Latin and North America, and Europe. In all cases we turn to culture in order to understand both the specificity of particular historical moments and the dynamics of epochal transformations.

The diversity of the objects of study in cultural history demands the mobilization of a wide array of research strategies. Sometimes the cultural artifacts are accessed directly; we make extensive use of archaeological finds, museum collections, recordings, photographs, postcards, prints, newspapers, magazines, films, maps, recipe books, and, of course, books both rare and popular. Texts and visual media that describe cultural forms provide essential supplemental information.

Some students choose to define a BA, MA, or PhD within the field; others take courses in cultural history in order to broaden the range of primary sources with which they feel comfortable. All are equally welcome in the courses offered within the rubric.