Guide Writing Material Culture History

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Ian M. Quimby's Material Culture and the Study of American Life , written in , tried to bridge the gaps between the museum world and the university and between curator and historian. Quimby posits that objects in museums are understood through an intellectual framework that uses non-traditional sources. He also describes the benefits of work on exhibit design as a vehicle for education.

Thomas Schlereth, Professor Emeritus of American Studies at the University of Notre Dame , wrote about philosophies and methods of teaching history outside the traditional classroom. In his book Artifacts and the American Past , Schlereth defines material culture study as an attempt to explain why things were made, why they took the forms they did, and what social, functional, aesthetic, or symbolic needs they serve. He advocates studying photographs, catalogues, maps and landscapes. He suggests a variety of modes for interrogating artifacts.

Gerd Koch , associated with the Ethnological Museum of Berlin , is known for his studies on the material culture of Tuvalu , [17] Kiribati [18] and the Santa Cruz Islands. Archaeology is the study of humanity through the inferential analysis of material culture to ultimately gain an understanding of the daily lives of past cultures and the overarching trend of human history. These physical artifacts are then used to make inferences about the ephemeral aspects of culture and history.

Beginning in the European Renaissance and the culture's fascination with classical antiquities, [25] the study of artifacts from long-lost cultures has produced many forms of archaeological theory , such as trans-cultural diffusion , processual archaeology , and post-processual archaeology. Additionally, archaeological sub-disciplines have emerged within the field, including prehistoric archaeology , classical archaeology , historical archaeology , cognitive archaeology , and cultural ecology.

Recently, a scientific methodology and approach to the analysis of pre-historic material culture has become prevalent with systematic excavation techniques producing detailed and precise results. Anthropology is most simply defined as the study of humans across time and space. To understand the culture in which an object is featured, an anthropologist looks at the object itself, its context, and the way that it was manufactured and used.


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The first anthropologist interested in studying material culture was Lewis Henry Morgan , in the midth century. He is most known for his research on kinship and social structures, but he also studied the effect of material culture, specifically technology, on the evolution of a society. He believed that it was crucial for an anthropologist to analyze not only the physical properties of material culture but also its meanings and uses in its indigenous context to begin to understand a society.

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Durkheim saw material culture as one of the social facts that functions as a coercive force to maintain solidarity in a society. In archaeology, the idea that social relations are embodied in material is well known and established, with extensive research on exchange, gift giving and objects as part of social ceremonies and events.

However, in contradiction to archaeology, where scientists build on material remains of previous cultures, sociology tends to overlook the importance of material in understanding relationships and human social behavior. The social aspects in material culture include the social behavior around it: the way that the material is used, shared, talked about, or made. Museums and other material culture repositories, by their very nature, are often active participants in the heritage industry.

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Defined as "the business of managing places that are important to an area's history and encouraging people to visit them," the heritage industry relies heavily on material culture and objects to interpret cultural heritage. The industry is fueled by a cycle of people visiting museums, historic sites, and collections to interact with ideas or physical objects of the past. In turn, the institutions profit through monetary donations or admission fees as well as the publicity that comes with word-of-mouth communications.

That relationship is controversial, as many believe that the heritage industry corrupts the meaning and importance of cultural objects.

Writing Material Culture History

Often, scholars in the humanities take a critical view of the heritage industry, particularly heritage tourism, believing it to be a vulgar oversimplification and corruption of historic fact and importance. Others believe that the relationship and the financial stability it brings is often the element that allows curators , researchers, and directors to conserve material culture's legacy. Some observers advocate intentionally altering the material cultures created by current civilizations.

For example, waste reduction advocates within environmentalism advocate teaching design approaches, such as cradle-to-cradle design and appropriate technology. Anti-consumerism advocates encourage consuming less thus creating fewer artifacts , engaging in more do-it-yourself projects and self-sufficiency changing the quality of artifacts produced , and localism impacts the geographic distribution and uniformity of artifacts.

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Physical aspect of culture in the objects and architecture that surround people. The Material Culture of Multilingualism. Cham, Switzerland: Springer. Princeton: Princeton University Press. Polity Books. London: Routledge. Jackson, vol. The Journal of Economic Perspectives.

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Material culture - Wikipedia

Personal Relationships. Understanding Material Culture. Retrieved 4 December Die Materielle Kulture der Ellice-Inseln. Materielle Kultur der Gilbert-Inseln. Knowing where to start is often bewildering. Because modern marketing and consumer shopping is so pervasive in many parts of the world, it is easy to forget that few people are trained systematically in the history of objects or the critical interpretation of cultural behavior through them.

Objects, environments, and cultural landscapes are all around us, but old and rare artifacts are typically located in museums or heritage organizations where access is restricted for reasons of conservation and security. The authors therefore devote about three-quarters of the book to demystifying the process of doing material-culture research, analyzing sources, and writing up findings. The emphasis is on the practical. The advice is sound.

Material culture

This book is an excellent addition to the pedagogy of material-culture training. The authors have condensed the philosophical complexities into a readable format with prescriptions for how to conduct research. The irony is that we communicate this information in the format of text and a few illustrations, flattening the material world. Like all guidebooks, the recommendations are a means to the end; we cannot study the world from our armchairs and the internet.

At some point, the authors remind us, we must go out into the world to interact with, understand, and make things. Project MUSE promotes the creation and dissemination of essential humanities and social science resources through collaboration with libraries, publishers, and scholars worldwide.

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