FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
1. Q: The Winterthur Museum’s object collections tend to span American life from 1650-1860. Are Fellows required to work within this time period during their studies?
A: No. Our professors and curators use Winterthur’s collections to teach analytical skills, provide content knowledge, and develop conceptual thinking. All of the connoisseurship classes use the museum collections (which include objects earlier and later than 1650 – 1860). Connoisseurship also incorporates Winterthur’s Library Collections which span 1600 – 1935. After training in object analysis, Winterthur students can apply these skills to any objects, no matter what time period.
Fellows learn about objects from different time periods in several ways. First, they have the opportunity to use the Museum’s library and object-study collections for 20th and 21st century material culture. Second, they are exposed to other collections during field-based learning trips (see: Field Based-Learning). Faculty structure these trips to supplement the Winterthur collections so that students can experience objects from many different periods. Behind-the-scenes access provide unparalled opportunities for handling objects, interaction with curators and staff, and access to resources at Winterthur. Third, students may interact with all kinds of objects in their elective classes, internships, and/or independent studies under the supervision of experts with the knowledge of a wide variety of time periods. Fourth, students have the freedom to choose their thesis topic. Their topics often build upon a student’s core passions or subjects they have been exposed to during their classes and trips. The thesis, too, can relate to any time period of the student’s choosing.
2. Q: What does ‘American’ mean in the title, Winterthur Program in American Material Culture, and what if I want to study international topics?
A: In this context, ‘American’ means the continents of the Americas, rather than simply the United States. Winterthur’s library and object collections contain items from North, Central, and South America. Further, these communities have transnational connections. Moving people and moving objects entangle people in global communities. As such, in classes where students are utilizing Winterthur’s collection, professors require that students examine the local and global implications of a given object, whether that be Chinese export porcelain, a mahogany tilt-top tea table, a Jamaican hair comb, or a Charleston slave tag.
Just as the Program exposes students to objects from different time periods, it also brings students in contact with objects and collections made and used by different groups. Field studies are part of this training, but students do not have to travel far to encounter collections specializing in African American history, Jewish American history, Native American cultures, and more. In addition, professors at Winterthur and the University of Delaware have specialties in varying geographic regions.
We know that all objects have stories relating to different persons, different time periods, and different geographies. It is the Program’s challenge to teach students how to look for these stories, and it is the students’ challenge to contribute their own scholarship to continuing conversations.
“It is important to stress the way in which the skills learned at Winterthur can be applied in ways that extend beyond what one learns in the collections. I have always thought of Winterthur as a language program that develops and sharpens material literacy, a rigorous, systematic way of looking at and thinking about objects. For me it has seemed very natural to use those skills to engage with contemporary objects or with objects from a broad temporal and geographic perspective. Currently I am enjoying working on Namban Japanese lacquer work, comparative study of objects made in the British Empire of the 18th and early 19th centuries, and the circulation of objects without centers and peripheries. Teaching a survey of global material culture that counts as one of our required introductory survey classes has been so rewarding. It is the path for future grads of the Winterthur Program.”
Dr. Edward Cooke, Professor of American Decorative Arts, Yale University.
3. Q: Can I use collections other than those at Winterthur for my thesis topic? Who can be my thesis advisor?
A: Students are not required to use objects or documents from the Winterthur collection for their thesis. Although we know that there are an endless number of possibilities for thesis topics in the Winterthur collections, we encourage students to examine as many objects as possible, both inside and outside of the Winterthur collection. As long as the student chooses a topic that is possible to complete during their two years here, and one that their chosen supervisor approves of, the student can study any object or objects they like.
Students need to choose a faculty advisor at either Winterthur or the University of Delaware who meet the University’s qualifications for guiding an MA thesis. With experts in all different sub-fields of material culture and the decorative arts, we are confident that every student can find a supervisor to assist them through the thesis process, provide new directions and ideas, and challenge them to generate a product better than they had ever thought possible.
A: Winterthur Fellows treat fine art as material culture. As such, one of the connoisseurship classes students take is Prints and Paintings. During this class, students are taught to analyze the materials that went into creating a piece of fine art, as well as the objects depicted in a given piece. Other connoisseurship classes examine different types of objects, help Fellows identify items portrayed in fine art, how a sitter may be interacting with those items, and the social significance of these depictions. This training can be seen in action at many of the fine art museums and galleries where Winterthur graduates are now employed.
5. Q: How does the Winterthur Program foster and facilitate non-white, non-elite, and marginalized perspectives?
A: Winterthur’s collections are famous for their extraordinary decorative arts objects. But a large portion of the museum’s object collections relate to everyday life, and a huge variety of non-white as well as non-elite experiences. Winterthur encourages close analysis of all objects to examine their multiple meanings and rich histories. Additionally, the collection has many objects related to women’s history, children’s history, and the elderly – objects that showcase how wide ranging experiences within these groups can be.
Throughout the Program then, Winterthur Fellows learn how to analyze objects for insights into non-white and non-elite experiences.
The University of Delaware also has particularly strong collections in 20th century African American Art at the Mechanical Hall Gallery. Many Fellows utilize these collections in courses they take with the University of Delaware’s Black American Studies department. The University also fosters different perspectives via their Center for Disability Studies and Women and Gender Studies. Classes that Fellows can take in Women and Gender Studies, for example, also foster LGBTQ perspectives and facilitate LGBTQ-specific object analyses.
Fellows will find all of their research interests are supported by the Winterthur and University of Delaware Library holdings. Between the two libraries, Fellows can research the material culture of almost any group in any time period, the history of these groups in museums and cultural institutions, and more broadly, the politics of representation.
Finally, when planning the Fellows’ field-based learning trips, the Program makes an effort to prominently feature museums and cultural institutions with collections that contrast with Winterthur’s strengths.
6. Q: I do not have a Material Culture or Decorative Arts background, can I still apply to Winterthur?
A: Yes! We encourage you to. Because Material Culture is a hybrid discipline, with intellectual roots in Archaeology, Art History, Architecture, Anthropology, History and Literary, the Program welcomes everyone who has an interest in the social significance of objects.
Winterthur is dedicated to facilitating innovative research, and an integral part of that is welcoming new voices and perspectives. Whatever your expertise may be, your perspective will enrich the conversations Winterthur fosters about material culture and the decorative arts.
A: Yes! It is our hope that students from far and wide apply to the Program, as students and faculty learn from each other. Whatever your background, it is our belief that you will find something that fascinates you inside and outside the Winterthur collections.
Additionally, the University of Delaware has an outstanding Office for International Students & Scholars (OISS) that assists international students through the visa, move, and settlement process each step of the way. The OISS office has experience assisting international Winterthur Fellows with some of the questions that arise from their status as foreign students.
A: Yes, because Winterthur began as a country estate several miles outside Wilmington, Delaware, students and faculty find it necessary to have a car. Winterthur and the University of Delaware are about thirty minutes apart. Unfortunately, the public transportation is not robust enough for students to use regularly. Although a car and driver’s license are necessary, many students, particularly those who have lived in large cities, arrive without a car or driver’s license. In this case, students may connect with other Fellows who have gone through the process of getting a license and car for advice on driver’s ed courses, car dealerships, and insurance agencies.
Additionally, most students move to Delaware or the surrounding area shortly before Summer Institute, and can usually car pool with their classmates as everyone has the same schedule for that class. At that time, Fellows can enroll in Driver’s Ed, and upon completing their test, purchase a car and car insurance.
A: Summer Institute is what Fellows often refer to as ‘Decorative Arts boot-camp.’ It is held in August of Fellows first year and is meant to be an introductory course to the Decorative Arts and Material Culture. The main goal of the course is to get the Fellows on even footing when they begin their fall courses, but it also helps them explore the resources around them. Fellows will meet nearly everyone in the museum and the program faculty, and will work on projects in the various museum and library collections.
A: The Museum grants Fellows the rare opportunity of learning by handling. Whether it’s Material Life in America or one of the connoisseurship blocks, students will often spend at least a portion of each class in the collections.
Although classes at the University of Delaware also make use of the museum’s and other collections in the area, courses at the University of Delaware help students with theoretical foundations, historical contexts, and the interpretation of an object’s significance. Classes at the University of Delaware complement the Museum’s courses. They enable Fellows to read objects and collections from new perspectives, such as disability studies, Black American Studies, or diaspora studies.
Together, the material-focused Winterthur classes, and the context-focused University Delaware classes, give Winterthur Fellows a holistic picture when it comes to object analysis and material literacy.
A: Yes, in most cases. The stipend value is determined based on the cost of living in the Greater Wilmington Area, and generally covers room and board. Fellows also regularly implement cost saving measures, such as living with room mates rather than living alone. Fellows often car pool to and from Winterthur, especially during Summer Institute when everyone’s schedule is the same, as well as to and from classes at the University of Delaware. Car pooling also reduces the parking costs at the University of Delaware. Additionally, other funding opportunities, annual gifts, and endowed funds make it possible for students to be reimbursed for travel, book, and research costs. In short, Fellows find the stipend manageable for their two years of study.
A: Fellows usually live close to the Winterthur Museum or the University of Delaware campus. Some Fellows have lived in the City of Philadelphia or some of the smaller towns in Pennsylvania that border Delaware. Most Fellows have found Wilmington to be a convenient location that is close to Winterthur and the University. In many cases, incoming Fellows take over the lease from the students who will be graduating.
A: Most Fellows coming from big cities have enjoyed their time at the Winterthur Program immensely. Some have either lived in Philadelphia, or maintained connections with New York City and Washington, DC, which are a short bus or train ride away. The Program encourages Fellows to study material culture and the decorative arts in urban environments by facilitating the British and New York City trips that all Fellows attend during their first and second years, respectively. These trips provide the Fellows with unparalleled contacts in the field, allowing many Fellows to return to these sites for work or further study after their graduation.
The Winterthur Program also offers Fellows a truly unique experience – the ability to study on a 600+ acre estate in the Brandywine countryside among some of the most beautiful gardens and wildlife that the United States has to offer. Fellows thus have the opportunity to choose between global cities and peaceful countryside as time and circumstances allow.
14. Q: I am also considering PhD programs. How will the Winterthur Program prepare me for a doctoral program?
A: Normally, one to two Fellows in each graduating class pursue a doctoral degree, usually in art history, history, or American studies. Most plan on careers in academic teaching or in art museums. Although doctoral programs provide advanced training in research, critical thinking, and academic teaching, most are disciplined based. They emphasize historiography, texts, and theory rather than exposure to objects and field-based or hands-on learning. The hard question is what do you need to know to pursue your intellectual and career objectives in a rapidly changing world?
Because the Winterthur Program has always emphasized an interdisciplinary approach, Fellows learn to adapt. They are comfortable in academic settings and the public humanities. They learn how to look at a wide spectrum of real objects rather than images of things. If you aspire to advanced research and scholarship using objects, we recommend that you attend the Winterthur Program before going on to doctoral programs. You may decide you do not need to spend 5-8 years working on a doctoral degree and writing a dissertation. If you do go on in a doctoral program, you will know more about how to look at things than your peers or most of your professors.
A: Your first point of contact is the Administrative Assistant in the Winterthur Program in American Material Culture office, located in Newark. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 302-831-2678. You may also review the application procedures and requirements and information on how to visit the Winterthur Program as a prospective applicant.