Each week in "Pathways through the Andes," students examine and discuss 10-15 objects from the collection of the Harvard Peabody Museum. Students complete assigned readings on the various kinds of artifacts before their section meets in the object study room of the museum. Discussions center on how the objects are relevant to the narratives of the weekly lectures, the cultures that created them, and their importance as unique pieces of physical evidence--in particular, the materials the objects are made from, their levels of craftsmanship, and their apparent life histories.
For the final project, students select their own object from the museum's vast collection and independently work through it in the same way they have practiced each week, applying the skills of observation, research, and analysis that they have developed. They are expected to situate the object within the course as a whole, discuss its relationships with other artifacts they have examined in the museum, and note unique characteristics of the object such as signs of use, wear, and repair.
Graduate student Andrew Hamilton observes that this form of hands-on learning makes the history of foreign cultures more "real" and accessible to students. Rather than passively absorbing information from a lecture or book, this approach gives students the remarkable opportunity to actively engage with primary evidence, thousands of years old objects that most people only ever see statically posed behind glass or in photographs.
See below for the course syllabus and final assignment.