History of Design to 1830: Course Summary

Jessica Jae Ainsworth-Truong

| ID2420 History of Design to 1830 | Course Summary |

This summary reflects my personal approach to the course and is based on the course description and competencies outlined by The Art Institute International Minnesota.

In this course, I am responsible for teaching students about architecture, interior design, and furniture from the ancient world through to the beginning of the Victorian Era.  Hard swallow.  I know it’s a lot to cover in just eleven weeks, especially when I try to introduce cultures outside of traditional Western art.  In order to do this effectively, I select specific buildings and pieces that address many aspects of the period instead of overwhelming the students with a ton of images.  I also select four to five key concepts for each period and make sure to reiterate those ideas throughout the lecture with multiple pieces.

Overarching Course Goals

Introduce the students to past cultures around the world.  I want students to have an understanding of the variety our world has to offer and that this richness comes from diverse beliefs, geographies, and experiences.  Many students never took world history, or if they did, they didn’t pay much attention.  I want to provide them the opportunity to learn about their world through something they are already interested in.

I wish to inspire the students to see how history is influential today and the potential these “old” ideas have on their current work.  History provides us with a limitless depth of conceptual and stylistic sources and the students should see it as a prospective gold mine.

Encourage them to investigate what interests them more deeply.  I give an overview of a tremendous amount of information in this class.  I want to tempt them with interesting tidbits or exciting images and provide the resources for them to pursue their specific passions.


The class is ordered, for the most part, in the traditional way where I start with Mesopotamia and Egypt and move forward through Western culture to Neoclassicism.  There is a detour after the Middle Ages, where we go over Asian and Islamic design and towards the end of the quarter, I cover Native North American and African design.  Although these cultures use mostly impermanent building methods like the Ancients, I choose to place them at the end rather than the beginning to re-address the importance of location in design and traditional, sustainable building methods.

I am very passionate about the history of design, and I try to bring this to lecture.  I like to tell stories and move around a lot.  I pepper the lecture with discussion questions that encourage students to make educated observations about pieces they are seeing.  I want lecture to be entertaining and engaging, because I feel the more involved the students are, the more they will absorb.

At the beginning of each lecture, I discuss the technologies and lifestyles of the period covered that day.  I want the students to get a historical mindset before we look at the pieces.  I include a “Religion 101” lecture for each major religion we cover, including Christianity, in order to inform the students of basic tenets and beliefs.  When I was a student, we were assumed to have extensive knowledge of the Bible and Christian beliefs, but students today have diverse backgrounds and this helps everyone achieve a deeper understanding.

The Research Paper Assignment.

I assign a traditional, ten page research paper in this class.  It is the only lengthy paper the students write within their major.  The paper helps reinforce research methods, communication skills, and furthers the students ability to compile and analyze research.  It also provides them with an opportunity to deeply investigate an interest from history.

I break the paper up into what I believe are digestible chunks with small assignments.  The small assignments are intended to encourage the students to be proactive, not procrastinate.  I urge them to approach the pre-writing process as designers, not English majors.  I do this through showing them how to diagram their thought process on tracing paper and organize their thoughts visually.  This has been a very successful approach to this assignment, as very few papers are turned in late and many of the students comment on how helpful this description of the writing process has been for them.


Each lecture has images that are noted with stars.  These images will be part of the identification portion of the exam.  I select these images because they are essential for the students understanding of the period, and by forcing them to regurgitate its name, culture, and date of construction, I’m engraining it on their memory.  They are also required to list reasons why the piece is particularly important so they are linking it back to socio-economics, symbolism, and technology.

Almost every lecture contains a discussion question that they need to answer.  The last question on each exam takes two of these discussion questions and combines them to see how the students relate different periods to each other.  For example, I might ask the students to compare and contrast the way Gothic Cathedrals and Persian Mosques address dematerialization.  We’ve covered the components in class, but it is up to them to make the connections.

My intention with this class is to excite students about design and where it has been and encourage them to use the past as an inspiration for today.  They need to realize that the work that they do today is representative of something greater than themselves and that in two hundred years, someone might be using it to discuss American design in the Second Millennium.


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