Historical Research Workshop

Reading Response: History from Things

This week’s reading from Lubar and Kingery outlines the unique insight that examination of material culture can afford us into the past. In distinguishing between art and artefacts, the authors make clear the different avenues by which one can learn about a culture’s beliefs, conditions and changes. Whilst art is intentionally expressive of the culture in which it is made, artefacts reveal more of the beliefs and assumptions, perhaps unknown even to beholders, embedded in certain objects. What I found particularly interesting was Prown’s argument that examination of material objects allows a greater objectivity of historical inquiry through the commonality of our senses. In first evaluating objects based on sensory reactions and perceptions, one is able, to a certain extent, to bypass individual cultural preconditions that influence interpretation.

2 comments for “Reading Response: History from Things

  1. Korey Haman
    October 29, 2013 at 6:17 PM

    This reading reflects how objects can be examined in a historical sense and analyzed for historical reasons. The authors go into detail about not only the obvious things that we can observe from an object but the analyzing of that object that allows us to see the cultures beliefs, customs, etc. I find this reading particularly interesting this week because I went to the antique road show this weekend in San Francisco. There was a lot of interesting early Civil War antiques that I found really interesting and other pieces that I was thinking about while doing this reading. It also makes me think about what it means for things that were well preserved that maybe now would be easily thrown again. There’s a lot more to learn from material culture then I had previously thought about.

  2. Cord Brooks
    October 29, 2013 at 11:00 PM

    I also found the reading this week to be quite interesting. I had not really conceived of artifacts in the same terms as Prown poses in the passage. At certain points, it did feel as though he was reaching a bit in his interpretation, but it was fascinating nonetheless. I am thinking, in particular, about his judgment of the teapot. The writer did bring up an interesting point at the end about evaluating an artifact while embedded in another culture. It seems extremely difficult, if not impossible, to interpret these objects without having our own culture and context influence the analysis. As he mentions in the excerpt, our beliefs bias our understanding. Prown does mention that using “sense” could be an alternative to this, but I am skeptical about its efficacy. Having read this, I would like to learn a bit more about material culture.

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