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Model T fuels new University Liggett School History Course, “Material Culture”

University Liggett School has launched a new course in its Upper School curriculum entitled, “Material Culture of the Ford Model T.” The course is built around the exploration of 19th and 20th-century society and culture through the lens of the iconic 1922 Ford Model T touring car, which the school procured through an education grant from The Edward E. Ford Foundation and now houses on campus.

In this class, students will learn about early twentieth-century American society, particularly the role that industrialization and the automobile played in the creation of that society, through hands-on study, repair, and restoration of the school’s 1922 Ford Model T touring car. The course is being co-taught by University Liggett School Dean of Curriculum and Assessment Adam Hellebuyck and Dean of Pedagogy and Innovation Mike Medvinksy.

This work ties to a tenet of the school’s approach to education and learning, which is to support real-world connections. Students’ critical thinking and problem-solving will be supplemented by academic study of scholarly and primary sources from the era, and consultation with both historical and engineering experts.

Course units are designed to build understandings of the role that physical objects play in the constructs and rituals of society, and involve students in the reimagining and restoration of this classic automobile. Through units on “Designing the Model T,” “The Human Element of the Model T,” “Think Differently About History,” and “Leisure and the Development of the Automobile Culture,” students will engage in innovation and design, among other activities:

- designing a hood ornament for the Model T, using historical contexts and student’s own personal goals as the basis for their designs
- a site visit to the Ford Piquette Avenue Plant, the birthplace of the Ford Model T
- designing an accessory for the car that would be useful in 1922, and modernizing it for today

Liggett’s “Material Culture” class is an example of the school’s innovative curriculum and philosophy that students understand history more deeply through lenses that are specific to place and time. Experiential projects and activities are tools to help students further connect curricular theories and knowledge to real-world situations.