Sarah Anne CarterAssociate Professor of Design Studies | Executive Director of the Center for Design and Material Culture

I am an interdisciplinary material culture scholar whose work centers upon histories of museums, material things, children, childhood and the family, domestic interiors and the home, and American social and cultural life more broadly. I teach courses on historic interiors, material culture theory and methods, and the material culture of childhood.

I am currently working on several projects, including a book that explores the emotional history of the American museum from 1784 to the present tentatively called Museum Feelings, and an edited volume with Marina Moskowitz that argues for the centrality of material culture to histories of home economics. In addition to my book, Object Lessons: How Nineteenth-Century Americans Learned to Make Sense of the Material World (Oxford, 2018) and my coauthored book, Tangible Things: Making History Through Objects (Oxford, 2015), I am co-editor with Ivan Gaskell of the 30-essay collection, the Oxford Handbook of History and Material Culture (Oxford 2020). I also enjoy writing for a public audience in venues like Avidly, Museum, and The Washington Post.

In my role as executive director of the Center for Design and Material Culture, I have had the opportunity to curate exhibitions like “Questioning Things: A Quarter Century of Material Culture Studies at the University of Wisconsin–Madison” and collaborate with colleagues across our school. Prior to joining the School of Human Ecology, I was the curator and director of research at the Chipstone Foundation in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where I collaboratively curated many museum exhibitions and directed Chipstone’s Think Tank Program in support of progressive curatorial practice.

Selected Publications

Carter, S. A. (2018). Object Lessons: How Nineteenth-Century Americans Learned to Make Sense of the Material World. Oxford University Press.

Carter, S. A. (2018). Mrs. M’s Cabinet: Imagining a Feminist Period Room, Feminism and Museums: Intervention, Disruption and Change, Vol. II (pp. 144-161). MuseumsEtc.

Ulrich, L., Gaskell, I., Schechner, S., & Carter, S. A. (2015). Tangible Things: Making History through Objects. Oxford University Press.

Carter, S. A. (2010). Picturing Rooms: Interior Photography 1870–1900. History of Photography, 34(3), 251-267.

For a full list of publications, see Carter’s CV.

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  • Design Studies

Degree Program

  • MFA Human Ecology: Design Studies
  • PhD Human Ecology: Design Studies



  • PhD, American Studies, Harvard University
  • MA, History, Harvard University
  • MA, Early American Material Culture, University of Delaware and the Winterthur Museum
  • AB, History, Harvard College


Office: 1235A Nancy Nicholas Hall

Phone: 608-262-1162



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