On Method

The articles on method and material culture that we read for this week portray the differing subject matter one can delve into by using material culture, different modes of analysis, the history of the field, and the way popular publications can also explore Material Culture. In Laurel Thatcher Ulrich's "Furniture as Social History: Gender, Property, Memory in Decorative Arts" studies furniture in a way that uses many of the gains of social history. I did not expect to be engaged by this article because of the focus on furniture, and on the 18th and 19th centuries, but Ulrich's ability to read gender norms into furniture made me think about furniture in a more provocative way. Ulrich also effectively connected her study of furniture to consumption and other historiographical issues that I am interested (2). While this may because Ulrich is primarily a social historian, this article really challenged my assumptions about the study of furniture. Ulrich also inadvertently shows how some museums, house museums in Particular, can benefit from social history while retaining their focus on furniture. Materials Against Materiality displays that material culture is often the domain of archeologists. Ingold explores the lack of discussion, primarily in archeology and anthropology, of the components of the objects studied in material culture. While this focus is not my own interest, it made me aware of my own biases in the study of objects. Thus far I have only contemplated the historical context of objects, rather than their physical properties. No only was Ingold helpful for the development of my own thoughts on Material Culture, but evidence for the importance of studying subjects from multiple disciplines is made apparent.

While Jules David Prown's "Mind in Matter: An Introduction to Material Culture Theory and Method" wasn't quite as engaging as some of the other articles, it really gave a sense of the history of the field of Material Culture and how far it has come since the early 1980s. Prown's article also really made clear how little History had been involved in the development and study of Material Culture, and how in many ways for this course we are stepping outside of our disciplinary boundaries.

Carolyn Kitch looks at Material Culture from a media perspective, and shows that Material Culture can be the domain of media scholars. Kitch assumes that written material can be and is Material Culture. In many ways Kitch comes at Material Culture from a less theoretical perspective than Ulrich and Prown, which makes her intervention clearer. Kitch focuses on emotional connections to objects and fascination with objects that someone may have held or touched in the past. This is not necessarily an intellectual connection, but an emotional one. Kitch also argues that objects can serve as a "moral witness to history" (360). Kitch very much taps into the emotional connection to material culture in a way that many of the other scholars did not.

Sam Anderson's New York Times Edmund de Waal and the Strange Alchemy of Porcelain touches on art, museums, porcelain and the public's relationship to material culture at the same time. Like Kitch's essay, Anderson's makes clear that the study of material culture does not have to be traditionally academic or theoretical, challenges the cold, dehumanizing way some museums choose to display objects that were developed with the emotion and humanity that Kitch evokes.

These articles are from varying disciplines and focus on a wide range of objects and materials, but because of this they give insight into the broad nature of the study of Material Culture. Material Culture borrows elements from art history, anthropology, history, media studies, and can be studied in densely theoretical academic ways and in publications meant for the educated reading public.

Discussion Questions:

How can Material Culture and the study of objects be effectively presented to the public? Is it?

How can objects in museums retain their human and emotional connections elements while being exhibited?

How can social history be applied to the study of objects other than furniture? IS it valuable?