Material Culture

While reading American Artifacts: Essays in material culture I stumbled upon the quote “All objects signify; some signify more than others.” (Haltman, 2). This quote really caught my attention because I had never thought of everyday objects as an aspect of my culture. According to Kenneth Haltman however, objects such as cellphones, blankets, clothing and tools are apart of Material culture. Material culture are physical objects, spaces and resources that can be used to define a culture. Things such as the plates we eat out of can one day be used by future historians to understand and describe our culture today.

Throughout Essay in material culture Kenneth explains how historian use material culture I found it quite interesting that he showed the connection between object and literature. Haltman says “Material culture begins with a world of objects but takes place in a world of words. While we work ‘with’ material objects, i.e. refer ‘to’ them, the medium in which we work as cultural historians is language.” (4). He also goes on to say that each person who looks at an object will have a different interpretation of its meaning and significance and it is not up to historians to say what its significance is.

I found this strange considering we often turn to historians for explanations on events and objects. However, Haltman claims their job is only to describe the objects so that we can find the connection of the object to the culture for ourselves. As a student I am used to being told the importance of things, so I found this perspective very new and refreshing.

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