The Domestic Scene

Few spaces are as consciously contrived in their form and appearance as those of the private dwelling. Coincident with the advent of the \”cult of domesticity\” that arose in the nineteenth century, two broad developments took place, each operating on the belief that visual knowledge of the material realm could reveal hidden facts and moral truths. A profusion of new publications appeared — housekeeping manuals, domestic treatises, women\’s magazines and decorating guides — defining a mode of domestic discourse based in popular knowledge and practical advice. At this same time, the composition and cultural interpretation of the domestic interior was infected by emergent scientific discourses. Techniques of observation, measurement and comparative visual analysis in fields such as forensics and criminology, scientific management, epidemiology, sociology, anthropology, euthenics, psychoanalysis, and evolutionary theory were transposed upon domestic space, ascertaining conformity or deviance in relation to presumed spatial norms and practices.This course will examine how the domestic scene — domestic space, with its material traces of occupation and use — has been shaped, territorialized, characterized, debated and transformed through diverse visual modalities culled from the mid-nineteenth to the mid-twentieth centuries. These include forensic visual analysis, time/motion efficiency studies, various mapping techniques, classification and ordering systems, miniaturization, modeling/prototyping, photographic and filmic interpretation and analysis. The course will also consider how domestic space was conceptually linked to, and held apart from, the larger built environment: city, landscape. Organized as a research seminar, we will first consider questions of visuality and visual rhetoric, reading selected texts from the history of art, perceptual psychology, visual culture, cultural studies, and film theory. Next we will consider the site of the domestic interior, drawing upon popular household literature of the period, and also examining the domestic interior\’s definition in relation to mainstream architectural history and theory, particularly through a body of work that has emerged in the last several years. Last, we will consider the domestic scene through a series of case studies: each will examine a specific means of visually apprehending and interpreting domestic space. Students will give presentations relating to course readings and will individually be responsible for leading a discussion session during the semester. In addition to assigned readings and class participation, each student will identify a research project that will culminate in a research paper or project.