“I tell my students that they are archeologists sifting through stuff to learn about the person who owns it and the society that made it,” says Associate Professor Joe Trumpey, who teaches at the University of Michigan’s School of Art and Design.
The course: Art and Design Perspectives. The assignment: Inventory, categorize, analyze and research everything you own.
My son Emerson, a sophomore in Trumpey’s class, had 438 items on his My Stuff spreadsheet (above) when I spoke with him last. (And this is only the stuff he has with him at school–you should see his bedroom at home.) For each object, he has to list country of origin, primary material, life expectancy, end of life cycle, and monetary value–and rank its personal importance in his life.
Once their inventories are complete, students will experiment with sorting them by various categories and analyze the patterns they find. “Ultimately, students see the complexities of global markets and design,” says Trumpey, who has given the assignment four years running. “Many see the excess of cheap, disposable goods versus the more meaningful or longer lasting goods.”
I’ll report on Emerson’s findings in an upcoming blog post.