I guess one could consider it designing, but in the sense that design historians are re-designing the past. I know, that sounds almost criminal. Let me clarify: in design history, objects become documents and agents. A book can be looked at from multiple angles: its written content, its production, its size, usage, the quality of the paper, the material, the person who wrote it and the person who consumed it, and how it affected the lives of these people. And it doesn’t stop here: you can look at the writings in the margins or even the doodles, explore its life after it was made through decades and through centuries. Therefore in a way the history of design proposes a new and exciting way of examining the past through the things that we have made and used. You can find design historians that look at graphics, beds, food, buildings, exercise machines, swimwear and even dildo’s (yes, they have been written about). The world is open.
A group of historians in the UK got together in the 1970s and wrote out the foundations of what would later develop into the history of design. The University of Brighton and the Royal College of Art together with the Victoria & Albert Museum became the pioneers. Today it is taught accross the world and is gaining more and more momentum. Here is a list of universities that teach it.
Royal College of Art and Victoria & Albert Museum – MA History of Design
This course is divided into three specialisms: Modern, Asian and Renaissance. It is a two year program which culminates in the production of a dissertation and an exhibition at the RCA Show. It is great because it is based half at an art college where you are surrounded by ‘makers’ of all kinds and half in the world’s greatest museum of decorative arts! On the RCA website (below) you can check out all the dissertation topics ( 2 ) of past students: it can really be a fun read.
University of Brighton – various BA and MA programs in the history of design and related fields.The University of Brighton also offers a great range of programs from the history of art and design to fashion history.
Kingston University and the Design Museum – MA Curating Contemporary Design
This program was launched ten years ago and is much more centered on curating design.
Bard Graduate Center- Decorative arts, design history, material culture
Bard College is famous for its MA in curating. About fifteen years ago, however, the university launched an MA in the history of Decorative Arts. This course is based in New York City’s Upper West Side and has its own gallery.
Parsons the New School for Design and the Cooper-Hewitt Museum- MA History of Decorative Arts and DesignSimilarly to the RCA/V&A program, this course is based in an art school and a decorative arts museum. They are very ‘object- based’ and tend to concentrate mostly on the collections of the Cooper-Hewitt Museum.