Material Culture

Robert DuPlessis

in Atlantic History

ISBN: 9780199730414
Published online May 2010 | | DOI:
Material Culture

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  • History of the Americas
  • European History
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Scholarly interest in artifacts is on the rise for reasons both narrowly academic and broadly social. Yet far from being a Johnny-come-lately, research in material culture boasts a venerable genealogy. Scholars in a variety of disciplines from archaeology to textile history have long examined the objects produced by human beings in the past as well as the present, albeit from diverse theoretical perspectives and methodological approaches. Some emphasize the physical objects themselves—how they are designed and produced, and the materials out of which they are made—while others study them as means to the end of understanding ideas, beliefs, and values of the societies from which they issue. Along with other humanists and social scientists, historians have increasingly begun to engage with this research and with its sources. Ethnohistory, an anthropologically informed approach that studies written documents, artworks, folklore and oral sources, ethnographic information, and artifacts, has been at the forefront of efforts to uncover material culture objects of nonliterate or nondominant populations, usually indigenous or non-European. This recent historical scholarship has been particularly interested in the complex relationships between material objects and societies: how things and people in the past have mutually shaped one another. As always, historians are also interested in when those relationships have changed and why—and when and why they have remained the same. The Atlantic, and particularly the Anglophone North Atlantic and Caribbean, have been privileged sites of much of this historical investigation. In this respect, as well as in the many disciplines, theories, methodologies, and sources drawn upon, Atlantic material culture history strongly resembles Atlantic consumption history. The two fields likewise both attend not only to what and how many goods people acquired but also to the practices that their goods enabled them to develop. Hence, beyond the works listed in this entry, the student of material culture is well advised to consult those in the entry “Domestic Production and Consumption.”

Article.  8377 words. 

Subjects: History of the Americas ; European History ; African History ; History ; Regional and National History

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