xiii A new field of research that has emerged in the second half of the 20th cen- tury is called “material culture.” The study of material culture is defined in the Sociology Dictionary as “The physical objects or ‘things’ that belong to, represent, or were created by a group of people within a particular culture.” All things that can be touched and felt, for example, objects, architecture, artwork, books, and written music, all made by and for humans, are exam- ples of material culture. The inverse of material culture is called nonma- terial culture, which is nonphysical and refers to the abstract ideas, belief systems, and values that make up a culture. The field of material culture is interdisciplinary and broad and was developed in some part as a reaction to the traditional emphasis that focused on documents, artwork, and objects that were produced by the elite. This privileged, almost exclusively male cohort wrote the books, created the documents, made the artwork, and pro- duced the decorative arts that were studied and celebrated as part of tradi- tional historical research and teaching. On a personal note, as a student of art history in the 1970s, I was given a traditional university education that concentrated on what was considered to be the greatest pieces of artwork, the finest buildings by the most celebrated architects, and the most super- lative examples of various styles of the decorative arts. I was fascinated by these wonderful works and the way the professors incorporated their historical contexts. But I was nonetheless left with an empty feeling in my gut: What about these charming antique chairs that were handed down in my family? How can I explain their style? What about the old houses on my block—what style were they, who built them, and why? There was little that I knew or appreciated that seemed to belong in these textbooks. What about all the people in the past who used or created these items? The history of these so-called vernacular-style objects was not part of the traditional curriculum until the new field of material culture emerged. This new field was influenced by the work of archeologists, who habitually utilized arti- facts from everyday life to explain the lives of ancient peoples and cultures. The field of social history also influenced the study of material culture. In HOW TO EVALUATE ARTIFACTS
Previous Page Next Page