Please note: there may be some adjustments to the teaching arrangements published in the course catalogue for 2020-21. Given current circumstances related to the Covid-19 pandemic it is anticipated that some usual arrangements for teaching on campus will be modified to ensure the safety and wellbeing of students and staff on campus; further adjustments may also be necessary, or beneficial, during the course of the academic year as national requirements relating to management of the pandemic are revised.

Shaping Modern Artefacts: Material Form and Function HISTART5130

  • Academic Session: 2021-22
  • School: School of Culture and Creative Arts
  • Credits: 20
  • Level: Level 5 (SCQF level 11)
  • Typically Offered: Semester 1
  • Available to Visiting Students: No
  • Available to Erasmus Students: No

Short Description

This course considers the form and function of historical modern material artefacts made since the 1850s to understand what they are made from, how and when they were made, and how they were used and valued.


Fifteen hours a week through lectures, seminars and practical laboratory work for a three-week period.

Requirements of Entry

Standard entry to Masters at College level

Excluded Courses





Written essay, 2,000 words (40%)

Written report, 2,000 words (40%)

Practical assessment oral report, 10 mins (20%)

Course Aims

This course aims to:

■ Introduce typical forms and functions of manufactured every-day and designer synthetic material products commonly found in historical collections of decorative arts, social history, fashion and design.

■ Develop knowledge of characteristic constructions, designs, aesthetics, trademarks and tradenames, and production methods for classic objects made since the 1850s, to recognise and identify commercial synthetic plastics, fibres, colourants and coatings in their manufactured state as commercial goods.

■ Develop knowledge about the historical availability and choices of synthetic materials through case studies and historical information about major technological and artistic development to enable dating of artefacts and explain their material condition. 

■ Introduce theoretical concepts of cultural and societal values and attitudes to commercial modern materials since the 1850's to understand artefact significance.

■ Introduce practical methodologies for object- and archive-based studies of modern materials as artefacts.

■ Develop practical skills in object examination and documentation, including application of technical material investigation methods and professional communication of research findings.

Intended Learning Outcomes of Course

By the end of this course students will be able to: 

■ Recognise common historical synthetic materials in decorative arts, social history, fashion and design artefacts by characteristic object appearances, manufacture, uses and dates.

■ Critically discuss the history of common commercial synthetic materials for every-day and designed products in contexts of historical technological, artistic developments, and social and cultural values.

■ Critically interpret synthetic materials in historical artefacts by object examination, technical material investigation and research of archival information sources. 

■ Communicate evidence of interdisciplinary observations and investigations for historical synthetic materials.

Minimum Requirement for Award of Credits

Students must submit at least 75% by weight of the components (including examinations) of the course's summative assessment.