Material Culture

A Research Guide

Thomas J. Schlereth, ed.

This collection of essays brings together six distinguished scholars to examine the progress, problems, and potential of material culture studies in America. From the perspective of their respective disciplines—cultural geography, vernacular architecture, American studies, the history of technology, the decorative arts, and folklife studies—these widely respected authorities survey the major material culture research of the past two decades and assess the most creative and innovative work-in-progress.

Thomas J. Schlereth's introductory chapter provides a critical analysis of material culture evidence, articulating the distinctive quality of such data and focusing on the problematic nature of doing research with objects rather than with written records. The chapters that follow, five of which originally appeared in 1983 in a special issue of American Quarterly, represent a succinct summary of those fields and subfields of material culture scholarship that are at the cutting edge of current research. The volume includes an expanded, up-to-date bibliography that will be of use to a wide range of scholars.

“A first-rate, useful work . . . a reference tool of primary importance for students and teachers working in the various fields that constitute the study of American material culture.”

—Jules D. Prown, author of American Paintings

“These essays, which approach the subject from various and important vantage points, . . . will certainly make findings in material culture studies more accessible to scholars in the fields of social history and public history, and also in museum work and preservation work.”

—Peter Stearns, editor of the Journal of Social History

Today American material culture studies remains a field where the most innovative work is occurring at the local or regional level. The essays in this volume suggest, however, that such work will be part of the wider evidential base and broader interpretive strategy out of which a new synthesis may develop.