History, Theory, Object

PPCM students analyze the photograph as material object and as image. Acquiring that understanding requires the historical and hands-on training elaborated above. The “History, Theory, Object” component provides students with a well-rounded approach to the study of objects and images.


Collotype print

Eadweard J. Muybridge (English, 1830-1904), Walking with a bucket in mouth, 1884-1887, Collotype print, Courtesy George Eastman House

In the History component, students investigate the chronological development of the intellectual and cultural traditions encoded in cultural artifacts. They can also explore particular cultural histories. They can accomplish these things through advanced courses in the history of photography (beyond the required introductory courses), intellectual or cultural history, literary or cinematic history, or art and architectural history.

The History component provides students with the intellectual tools to contextualize aesthetic and cultural movements and the intellectual traditions to which they both respond and contribute. It also offers theoretical reflections and empirical investigations of how people in the past made meaning visually.

Representative Courses:

  • Visual Culture of Heritage and Identity
  • Arts in American Culture
  • Film History
  • American Culture Since 1876
  • Topics in American Cultural History


Students must be acquainted with interpretive strategies enabling them to negotiate the complexities of the cultural artifact—whether photograph, literary work, motion picture, or any other material expression of individuals’ and their cultures’ thoughts and values.

The Theory component allows students to investigate different methodologies for understanding the diverse ways in which cultural artifacts communicate meaning. It will furthermore equip them to develop their own advanced strategies for interpretation and, when faced with new objects or collections of objects, to devise appropriate interpretive methodologies able to account for those objects’ complexities.

Representative Courses:

  • Mimesis: Theory and Practice
  • Social Uses of Media
  • Poetics of Television
  • Women as Image and Text
  • Culture and Consumption
Photo Handling


All forms of expression require a material vehicle to convey information. In the Object component, students analyze the ways in which material form conveys information and the significance of changes in material form over time. They also examine how the circulation of an object in different contexts can produce different kinds of meaning, and explore the sorts of changes in individuals or groups that come about when they come in contact with particular objects.

The Object component serves to bridge the theoretical and historical study of the image to the specialized technical knowledge acquired in the program’s hands-on components, such as preservation and historic processes.

Representative Courses:

  • Culture on Display
  • African-American Literature and the Archive
  • Text and Medium
  • Film as Object
  • Chinese Visual Culture: Medium and Materiality