History through material culture provides a practical introduction for researchers who wish to use objects and material culture as primary sources for the study of the past. The book focuses primarily on the period 1500 to the present day, but the principles put forward are equally applicable to studies of earlier historical eras. Histories of the last five centuries have been driven to a remarkable extent by textual records and it is with this in mind that History through material culture offers researchers a step-by-step guide to approaching the material evidence that survives from this period. Anticipating that many researchers will feel under-skilled or lacking in confidence in tackling artefacts of the past, the book traces the process of research from the framing of research questions through to the writing up of findings – giving particular attention to the ways in which objects can be located, accessed and understood. This practical guidance is augmented by the use of examples of seminal and contemporary scholarship in this interdisciplinary field, so that readers can see how particular approaches to sources have been used to develop historical narratives and arguments. It is written in accessible and jargon-free language with clear explanations of more complex discourses. In this way, the book demystifies both the process of researching objects and the way research practice relates to published scholarship.
Anglo-Saxon ‘things’ could talk. Nonhuman voices leap out from the Exeter Book Riddles, telling us how they were made or how they behave. In The Husband’s Message, runic letters are borne and a first-person speech is delivered by some kind of wooden artefact. Readers of The Dream of the Rood will come across a tree possessing the voice of a dreaming human in order to talk about its own history as a gallows and a rood. The Franks Casket is a box of bone that alludes to its former fate as a whale that swam aground onto the shingle, and the Ruthwell monument is a stone column that speaks as if it were living wood, or a wounded body. This book uncovers the voice and agency that these nonhuman things have across Anglo-Saxon literature and material culture. It makes a new contribution to ‘thing theory’ and rethinks conventional divisions between animate human subjects and inanimate nonhuman objects in the early Middle Ages. Anglo-Saxon writers and craftsmen describe artefacts and animals through riddling forms or enigmatic language, balancing an attempt to speak and listen to things with an understanding that these nonhumans often elude, defy and withdraw from us. The active role that things have in the early medieval world is also linked to the Germanic origins of the word, where a þing is a kind of assembly, with the ability to draw together other elements, creating assemblages in which human and nonhuman forces combine. Anglo-Saxon things teach us to rethink the concept of voice as a quality that is not simply imposed upon nonhumans but which inheres in their ways of existing and being in the world; they teach us to rethink the concept of agency as arising from within groupings of diverse elements, rather than always emerging from human actors alone.
then there are also the ordinary things, the overlooked, the everyday – they fill our worlds, make our routine actions possible (or obstruct them). We cannot – as Lorraine Daston has emphasised – even ‘imagine a world without things’. 2 Materialculture frames all of our actions and experiences and is constitutive of them. Materialculture sheds light on our production and consumption of goods, our power relations, social bonds and networks, gender interactions, identities, cultural affiliations and beliefs. Materialculture communicates all kinds of human values
This guide has sought to show that materialculture is a valuable and accessible source of evidence for historians and one that can prompt new ways of thinking about the past. As we have seen, materialculture articulates relationships and interactions between people, things, and broader societal structures and networks. By combining examples of this kind of scholarship with details of how a researcher can access objects to study, we hope to have demystified the practice of materialculture history and made it more approachable for the reader. The guide
There are, as we have seen, very many reasons for historians to be interested in the insights that materialculture can unlock. However, for objects to yield rewards we must employ tried and tested strategies for examining them. Such established approaches have emerged from distinct disciplines and professional practices, which have their own histories and intellectual concerns. This chapter provides an introduction to the origins of historical materialculture studies in terms of both academic research and museum practice, so that we can understand not
fields of academia, public history, museums and heritage.
In this chapter we will focus on the specific elements of writing that relate to materialculture-driven historical studies, highlighting the standard conventions of presentation and also techniques that can help engage your reader with objects that can only be reproduced in two dimensions on the page or screen. The chapter will start with a discussion of the practical aspects of incorporating objects within your writing and then move on to provide more specific guidance for different types of writing
objects in question. A significant portion of this chapter therefore discusses museums and heritage sites as these offer the most readily available sources of materialculture for scholars, and offers detailed guidance on searching collections and forging good relationships with institutional staff, whose expertise will be critical. Using collections located in such institutions has many advantages: accessible information about their holdings on websites (and in some cases online databases) and existing research on the collection upon which to build new findings. These
Understanding museum collections and other repositories
Leonie Hannan and Sarah Longair
Researching materialculture relies on bringing the business of research theory and practice together. As Christopher Tilley has put it: ‘Theory is practice and all practice is theoretical.’ 1 Theory and research practice work in concert to drive a research project to a satisfying conclusion. Describing how theory and practice work together is often discussed in the methodology section of a piece of writing, proposal or application. In essence, the term ‘methodology’ refers to the system of methods used in the study of a given subject. In describing
There are many different ways of accessing information about materialculture through observation, examination and other forms of investigation. This chapter will work through the main methods of analysis you might wish to use when you work with objects. It is possible, of course, that you will need to use several methods to help you answer your research question. Here, the opportunities and constraints of examining objects in person will also be discussed. The chapter is arranged in sections: the first deals with methods of investigating objects
In Chapter 1 we considered how different disciplines approach the study of the material world and traced its role within historical practice. In this chapter, we will look at strategies for developing effective research projects using materialculture. First, we focus on initiating your project, then on how to formulate effective research questions. We then discuss a range of issues that affect the design of your project, followed by four case studies, and conclude with guidance on creating a realistic research schedule. Putting these foundations in