21A.501J | Spring 2013 | Undergraduate

Art, Craft, Science


Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 1 session / week, 3 hours / session


There is no prerequisite for this course.

Course Description

This course examines how people learn, practice, and evaluate traditional and contemporary craft techniques. Social science theories of design, embodiment, apprenticeship learning, skill, labor, expertise, and tacit knowledge are used to explore distinctions and connections among art, craft, and science. We will also discuss the commoditization of craft into market goods, collectible art, and tourism industries. Ethnographic and historical case studies include textiles, glassblowing, quilting, cheese making, industrial design, home cooking, factory and laboratory work, CAD-CAM. In-class demonstrations and hands-on craft projects will be included.

Classes will combine lecture and discussion. Each class is keyed to a set of readings, and it is crucial that students keep up with the readings and be prepared to discuss them in class. Some lectures will directly engage our readings while others (including guest lectures) will provide contextualizing historical and theoretical information and/or offer case study illustrations. Occasionally we may break into small groups for more concentrated discussion. Class participation—regular attendance and participation in discussion—will count strongly towards the final grade.

We expect students to adhere to MIT’s guidelines on academic integrity. Plagiarism, unauthorized collaboration, cheating, or facilitating academic dishonesty may cause us to contact the Office of Student Citizenship or Committee on Discipline. But not to worry! There are many sources of support around campus if you get overwhelmed. Check out Academic Integrity at MIT: A Handbook for Students.

Requirements and Grading



You must attend class and participate in discussions. Short in-class written assignments and informal oral presentations may be asked of you throughout the semester.


Written Assignments

You will complete 4 short written assignments during the semester (2 are lab-like write-ups of craft projects).

Final Term Paper 40

For further detail on the written assignments and the final term paper, please see the Assignments section.


Two books are required for this course.

Paxson, Heather. The Life of Cheese: Crafting Food and Value in America. University of California Press, 2012. ISBN: 9780520270183. [Preview with Google Books]

Adamson, Glenn, ed. The Craft Reader. Bloomsbury Academic, 2010. ISBN: 9781847883032.

For further detail on the remaining readings, please see the Readings section.

Course Info

As Taught In
Spring 2013