Material culture consists of any physical manifestation or product of culture. Culture as a conceptual category exists in opposition to material culture, with culture sometimes distinguished as mental culture or nonmaterial culture, although some scholars take issue with such a Cartesian distinction. Alternatively material culture can be taken as a subset of a primary category, culture. Following the gist of E. B. Tylor’s ( 1974) classic 1871 definition, culture, in social science usage, comprises a complex whole of patterned knowledge and behavior: that which is traditional but also emergent, cumulated, learned, and acquired by members of society. By the mid-twentieth century culture could be defined and understood in literally hundreds of ways (Kroeber and Kluckhohn 1952); by the late twentieth century the term had been deconstructed by some postmodernist thinkers as totalizing, hegemonic, essentialist, and an imagined figment. Tylor employed the term material culture as early as 1871, although he apparently neglected to define it (Reynolds 1987, p. 155; for a commentary on the concept, see Buchli 2002, pp. 2–8).
Culture resides in the mind and is shared across minds. Material culture renders culture manifest in physical, palpable, measurable form. For archaeologists, folk-lorists, historians, museum curators, and others, material culture evidences the cultural. Material culture includes what archaeologists typically refer to as artifacts, collectors as relics, and art historians as objets d’art. Artifacts include such objects as stone tools, potsherds, bottles, beads, buttons, fibulae, coins, clay pipes, paintings, and textiles. To this list of conventionally recognized artifacts one should add such large-scale examples of material culture as buildings, monuments, gardens, gravestones, watercraft, roads, bridges, tunnels, dams, irrigation ditches, fences, wharves, landfills, and landscapes—all part of the intentionally built environment. For some scholars, any modification of the environment resulting from cultural activity, deliberate or not, counts as material culture: trash middens, oil spills, crop marks, cultigens, particulate emissions, food bones, human skeletal remains, manuports (materials moved out of their original location by human agency, like moon rocks brought to earth), and ecofacts of all sorts and conditions (such as flower pollen in Neanderthal burials or oyster shells filling in a road pothole). All writing and symbolic expression, from pictographs, graffiti, iconography (Munn 1973), and tattoos to cuneiform tablets and comic books can be considered material culture. The anthropologist and archaeologist James Deetz has suggested that spoken language be thought of as material culture in its “gaseous state” (Deetz 1996, p. 36), because sounds physically set air in motion during speech, if only briefly. Whether or not one wants to go so far as to accept spoken language as material culture, one can certainly admit records, tapes, and DVDs.
Material culture—past and present, partial and entire, in situ at an archaeological dig, on or of the landscape, or cached in a museum—illuminates cultural phenomena in many ways. Material culture communicates, expresses meaning, conveys experience, disciplines, and exhibits agency. Just as material culture is various, so too the study of material culture reflects a broad array of perspectives, analytical stances, and underlying philosophical traditions.
Description remains foundational to material culture studies. The anthropologist Franz Boas ( 1964), in one of the first formal ethnographies, recorded material as well as nonmaterial culture by describing such items as igloos, harpoons, and dolls, which were illustrated with sketches. For archaeologists, time, space, and form constitute three important descriptive dimensions of material culture. It is essential to know how old an object is and when it was used, recycled, or discarded. Chronology supplies part of the crucial cultural context of material culture. Dozens of dating methods yield relative and absolute chronologies. Relative dating, which establishes that something is older than, newer than, or contemporaneous with something else, is exemplified by cross dating derived from stratigraphy and an examination of stylistic change. Absolute dating methods, which assign age in calendar years, include obsidian hydration, dendrochronology (using tree rings), and radiometric techniques such as radiocarbon dating.
It is also invaluable to know an object’s spatial location—its point of origin or place of discovery. Provenance, like chronology, constitutes prime contextual data. Location might be variously logged as a cultural area, city, or country name, an archaeological excavation’s grid/stratum designation, or a set of latitude and longitude points in a geographical positioning system. Lack of provenance is problematical because it means spatial context has been lost.
Form involves the attributes or characteristics of an object. Description of form entails acquiring and recording data concerning factors such as dimension, color, texture, chemical composition, and stylistic elements. Taxonomy, typology, or classification may draw on numerous methods, such as the type-variety concept, modal analysis, numerical taxonomy, and linguistic models. The widely applied type-variety approach identifies configurations of associated attributes to generate categories of types and varieties. In modal analysis, single attributes such as stylistic motifs can be traced through time and space. Numerical taxonomy codes for multiple attributes and tests for clustering or correlations by means of statistical routines. Typology based on linguistic models posits parallels to language, using either constituent units analogous to phonemes or morphemes or a set of grammatical rules for object construction. The results of typological analysis end up in such formats as exhibit catalogs, databases, museum labels, and archaeological site reports.
Considerations of technology and function are vital to material culture studies. Some typologies, such as the first ones developed in the second half of the nineteenth century to describe European Paleolithic assemblages, posit functions for stone tools, such as scraper, graver, and burin. The approach known as experimental archaeology (see Coles 1973; Reynolds 1979; Gould 1980; Ingersoll, Yellen, and Macdonald 1977) features rigorous testing of technology and function, applied to areas as diverse as flint-tool knapping and the experience of building and living in an Iron Age village. To discover aspects of technology or function, sophisticated laboratory analysis may be performed, as was the case with Arlene Fraikor et al. (1971), who showed that the copper in Hopewell earspools (Ohio, c. 100 BCE–550 CE) was shaped both by annealing and cold hammering. Thomas Loy and James Dixon (1998) contributed to the understanding of the function of 11,000-year-old Alaskan fluted projectile points when they identified species like mammoth, Dall sheep, and bison from blood cell residues preserved in the tools’ crevices.
Some of the earliest material culture studies, conducted during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, focused on the distribution of elements of material and nonmaterial culture. The British heliocentric diffusionist school of Grafton Elliot Smith and William J. Perry and the German/Austrian diffusionist school of Friedrich Ratzel, Fritz Graebner, Leo Frobenius, and Wilhelm Schmidt identified complexes or culture circles of material and nonmaterial culture traits and used migration and borrowing to account for cultural differences. Similarly the twentieth-century American anthropologists A. L. Kroeber ( 1952), Clark Wissler (1914), and Harold Driver (1961) linked cultural traits—with material items figuring prominently—to geographical areas, yielding culture areas. Nonmaterial elements like kinship terminology and language were combined with material culture categories, such as housing types, crafts, and art, and were mapped across culture areas. Material items from the Arctic culture area, for example, might include igloos, kayaks, and ivory tools. The culture area approach still finds expression (Kehoe 2006) as an organizational principle for ethnological surveys. One notable continuation of diffusionist analysis is the early work of the folklorist Henry Glassie (1968), which, in the tradition of the geographer Fred Kniffen, traces the diffusion of vernacular buildings, musical instruments, and tools across the eastern United States. The focus on culture element distributions still finds representation in twenty-first-century cultural and material culture studies in the extensive ethnological and archaeological databases at Yale. Known as the Human Relation Area Files (HRAF), these were initially published in book form but are available on the Web by subscription (http://www.yale.edu/hraf/).
Part of a much larger system, material culture can be viewed as performing certain systemic functions, such as fulfilling human needs or adapting to environmental change. Early twentieth-century functionalism, largely descriptive and static, was somewhat displaced during the 1960s by positivist and processual approaches, often fortified by conflict theory and cultural ecology. Processual archaeology seeks, by means of the hypothetico-deductive approach, to explain relationships within specific cultures as well as the evolutionary record across cultures. In a pioneering study Sally Binford and Lewis Binford (1969) employed factor analysis to relate clusters of tools to climate and environmental change. Susan Kent (1984) compared spatial patterning of domestic activity areas in Navajo, Euro-American, and Spanish American sites in the Southwest. William Rathje and Cullen Murphy (1992) contrasted what people presume to be in urban landfills with what really is there by means of laboratory-based quantification.
Many material culture studies simultaneously examine art, folk art, history, and technology. For example, the Winterthur Museum and Country Estate has published numerous books and conference papers on material culture and the decorative arts, examining categories such as clocks, ceramics, glass, furniture, architecture, gardens, and silver. A collection of material culture studies edited by Ian Quimby (1978) illustrates this approach. J. Ritchie Garrison (1991) followed the approach of Fernand Braudel to the local, individual level when he tracked the development of wealth and social status in Franklin County, Massachusetts, through an analysis of crops, architecture, and farmsteads. Robert Thompson and Joseph Cornet (1981) combined field and informant-based data, study of museum collections, and documentary research to decipher the meanings and social context of maboondo, bottomless cylindrical vessels placed on some Ki-Kongo graves (in Zaire) to symbolize the wisdom of deceased leaders. The art historian Thompson finds echoes of this Ki-Kongo tradition in the seashells and mugs with broken-out bottoms found on some African American graves in the southeastern United States.
Material culture, even when it appears to us as mere technology, communicates. Whatever culture needs or aspires to communicate or signal can be represented or reflected in material culture. Consider material culture as an alternative to spoken language and gesture—a medium less flexible but more enduring (McCracken 1987). Expressions and symbols of social and cultural identity, affiliation, role, rank, wealth, status, age, gender, values, and beliefs constitute a major area of interest for scholars of material culture. Material culture, from this perspective, can be thought of as providing a parallel record of a culture’s worldview, values, and beliefs. A study by the geographer Peter Hugill (1984) showed how material culture can communicate about and correlate with social indicators. Looking at the evolution of the landscape in the Cazenovia area of New York, Hugill revealed ways the old elite maintain status over the newly wealthy by means of a “full range of gestures in the ‘aesthetic-historical-genealogical’ complex” (Hugill 1984, p. 29). Among that range of “gestures” are old homesteads infused with family history, something not readily attained by the newly wealthy. The creaky homes of the old elite proclaim a status beyond the purchasable.
Material culture systems may also be at variance with the nonmaterial, however. For example, language and material culture distributions do not necessarily predict each other (Welsch, Terrell, and Nadolski 1992); likewise, in traditional societies ownership of modern material culture may fail to correlate with values of modernity (Robbins and Pollnac 1974). Furthermore, although material culture exists in a sense as doubly cultural—first as a pattern in minds, second as material representation— not all material culture communications are intentional or even consciously understood. The plain, unadorned cross of the Southern Baptist church and the Christ on the cross of Latin American Catholicism symbolize, respectively, the ethereal (risen) Pentecostal Christ and the earth-bound, suffering Christ (Richardson 2003, p. 122)—but few churchgoers consciously register these theological messages.
One prominent approach to meaning in social science, structuralism, emphasizes patterned cultural meanings and central symbols and focuses on cultural abstraction or culture as knowledge system. By contrast, symbolic interactionism investigates the active behavioral processes of socialization and the realm of social actors. Each yields different pictures when applied to material culture. Inspired by the work of the structuralist anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss and the linguist Noam Chomsky, Henry Glassie (1975) analyzed vernacular Virginia houses and deduced a grammar of spatial proportion and function through which symbolic oppositions inherent in Western culture—such as natural/artificial and public/private—were expressed. The anthropologist Claire Farrer (1991) encountered expressions of the Mescalero Apache “base metaphor” throughout Apache culture, including in material forms, such as baskets, the tribal museum’s layout, and the Holy Lodge. Sunwise directionality, circularity, sound and silence, harmony and disharmony, colors, gender, and the number 4 are among the integrated symbolic qualities of the Apache base metaphor. (See Hodder 1982 for a host of structuralist-oriented material culture studies by archaeologists.)
As for the social interactionist perspective, one can point to Rhys Isaac, who, influenced by the sociologist Erving Goffman, conducted a dramaturgical analysis of an eighteenth-century Virginia house “Sabine Hall” and of a diary from the 1760s written by Colonel Landon Carter. From these two sources, Isaac reconstructed webs of social relationships and daily rituals. Sabine Hall and its spaces appear as a stage with props, part of the material “definition of the situation” conditioning social action in eighteenth-century daily dramas. In a similar vein Miles Richardson (1987; see also Low 2000), influenced by the work of Goffman and the philosopher George Herbert Mead, contrasted the preliminary definitions of the situation and socially generated meanings of contemporary markets and plazas in Spanish America and then, guided by the concept of artifact as “collapsed act,” outlined how archaeologists might rediscover the lost social world of a burial mound.
Akin to structuralism and symbolic interactionism is what is sometimes called cognitivism. For cognitivist archaeologists the question is: How did people of the past think? Through inferences drawn largely from the analysis of material culture, archaeologists reconstruct cultural thought processes. At Pincevent and other French sites of the Magdalenian age, C. Karlin and M. Julien (1994) found evidence of stages of “apprenticeship” in regard to lithic stone tool–making ability, which may reveal age and skill-level communication within a system of groups.
A universal category of human experience, exchange, incorporates material culture in both economic and symbolic ways. The work of two scholars, Igor Kopytoff and Daniel Miller, exemplifies the focus on exchange in material culture studies. If one follows their trajectories, things accumulate their own biographies just as people do, Kopytoff (1986) has suggested. One process Kopytoff has identified, commoditization, brings a wide range of objects into the orbit of one common exchange medium, such as money. But commoditization, as convenient and expansive as it tends to be, may threaten other social interests; hence some objects may undergo the nearly opposite process of singularization in order to be protected from commoditization. An artist’s commoditized painting is bought and sold half a dozen times; after the artist becomes famous, the painting is purchased by a museum and becomes, at least temporarily, singularized.
For his part, Miller challenged the common assumption that globalization is an entirely homogenizing process. In his 1998 study of Coca-Cola in Trinidad, he observed that Coca-Cola furnished only one of several ways of preparing locally defined and preferred “black sweet drinks” (such as rum and Coke). The powerful locally owned distributor of Coca-Cola followed its own strategy—not Coca Cola’s—when it came to marketing.
Some analysts treat material culture as taken for granted or received (as with nonmaterial culture). Others, however, see material culture as imbued with the power to direct human thought and behavior or to reinforce class, gender, or other inequalities (McGuire and Paynter 1991). Inverting the Hegelian dialectic, Karl Marx set the stage for the materialist analysis of technology and material culture by proclaiming, “It is not the articles made, but how they are made, and by what instruments, that enables us to distinguish different economic epochs” (Marx  1967, p. 180). Marx incorporated the evolutionary scheme of Lewis Henry Morgan ( 1985) to extend into prehistory the relations of modes of production, and in the process he provided an enduring model for Soviet archaeology, material culture studies, American cultural materialism (see Harris 1979), and of course numerous versions of conflict theory and critical theory. Continuing in this materialist vein and informed also by the work of Immanuel Wallerstein, Fernand Braudel ( 1973, 1977) has traced the history of evolving relationships, on a worldwide scale, between economics and material culture categories, such as towns, housing, motive power sources (steam engines, water wheels, etc.), food, and money.
In his study of the material culture of seventeenth-through nineteenth-century Annapolis, the archaeologist Paul Shackel (1993) argued that clocks, scientific instruments, and items such as individual dinner plates, knives, forks, and spoons all enforce “discipline” and etiquette systems. At first only owned by the elite, clocks and scientific instruments such as telescopes served to “measure” time. Because it is measured, time can be made to appear as if it exists externally in nature rather than being a human construct; clocks then are used to set discipline parameters for everyday life, such as the beginning of a factory shift or a unit of pay (the hourly wage). Eventually all people come to possess clocks and to conceptualize time as located in nature.
Not all such analysis derives from conflict theory. In his evaluation of New York City public parks and plazas, the sociologist William Whyte (1980) documented the power of spatial layout and architecture to either invite or repel users. Places to sit, sun, shade, and water (in fountains and pools) invite human presence; fences, walls too high to sit on, immovable and uncomfortable benches, or threatening signs repel.
As mentioned in the above discussion of agency, analysts of material culture frequently draw on conflict theory and deconstruction theory (in anthropology the latter is sometimes referred to as post-structuralism). A collection of essays edited by Christopher Tilley (1990) explores ways the work of deconstructionists like Jacques Derrida and Michel Foucault might be applied to archaeology. Deconstruction places social power and systems of control front and center, and not surprisingly, material culture is very much taken into consideration. John Dorst (1989) detailed the properties of postmodern life represented by material culture found in the booths and exhibits of the annual Chadds Ford Days living history fair. As the visitors moved through the exhibits at the fair, observing and purchasing souvenirs, they marked or enacted difference and engaged the fair’s “controlling image” of the late-eighteenth-century domestic sphere. At Chadds Ford the struggle to legitimize and represent the social order manifested itself at several levels: as a competition between the Brandywine River Museum, the Historical Society, and the Chris Sanderson Museum and on the landscape itself, where the projected nostalgic images of the Wyeth school wrestled with the suburban dream.
Courtney Workman (2001) documented the tortured politics surrounding a statue, The Woman Movement, designed by Adelaide Johnson in 1921 and portraying Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan Brownwall Anthony, and Lucretia Mott. On display briefly in the rotunda of the Capitol building, it was then removed to a basement closet, where it resided until 1997 in spite of numerous lobbying efforts over the years. The National Political Congress of Black Women sought to block relocation, demanding that Sojourner Truth first be added to an unfinished part of the monument. Even the way material culture is represented by archaeologists to archaeologists may be contested; for example, Janet Spector (1993) attempted to correct the underrepresentation of women’s presence and activities in the archaeological record of a Wahpeton Dakota village.
Material culture can also be presented in a way that is “experience-near,” to use Clifford Geertz’s term—that is, from the perspective of those who create it or experience it firsthand. Folklorist Simon Bronner helps one to encounter the “evidence of tangible things” (1986, p. 1) whether it’s entering a house, making turtle soup, or carving gravemarkers. Henry Glassie’s (1999) sensitive reporting allows one to enter into the mind of Hagop Barin, a Turkish Oriental carpet restorer working in Istanbul and Philadelphia. For Hagop, the good rugs evoke memories, create a mood and a feel. They are not just rugs but works of art with the hearts and thoughts of their creators woven into them.
Material culture can be analyzed from many perspectives. Its study is pursued by many disciplines both within and outside of the social sciences: anthropology, archaeology, architecture, art history, folklore/folklife, history, American studies, geography, cultural history, historic preservation, museology, and sociology. What is common to these perspectives and disciplines? For all, material culture serves as the principal source of data (Deetz 1977, p. 10). Material culture is habitually contrasted and related to nonmaterial culture. Space/time/culture boundaries are relaxed and transcended, such that material culture from any time, place, or culture becomes an object of interest. The focus is on comprehending material culture for its cultural and social significance, not on objects as things to be assessed, possessed, or appreciated. Material culture constitutes a “supercategory of objects,” to apply differently a term employed by Victor Buchli (Buchli 2002, p. 6). Surprisingly, even as disciplines, schools, and perspectives proliferate, those studying that supercategory of objects, material culture, appear to readily cross disciplinary lines and read and cite each other’s work (see Lubar and Kingery 1993; Miller 1998; Reynolds and Stott 1987; Richardson 1974; Schlereth 1982).
SEE ALSO Anthropology; Anthropology, Linguistic; Archaeology; Architecture; Boas, Franz; Chomsky, Noam; Cognition; Culture; Ethnography; Goffman, Erving; Levi-Strauss, Claude; Marx, Karl; Materialism; Materialism, Dialectical; Mead, George Herbert; Meaning; Navajos; Symbols; Truth, Sojourner; Wallerstein, Immanuel
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This article describes and discusses some aspects of the material culture of Islam to underscore and appreciate the diversities of Islamic societies and emphasize the ability of Islamic communities to use objects, artifacts, and forms of expression as media on and with which to express faith, identity, and status. The importance of sacred spaces, such as the mosque; aesthetic expressive forms like art and music; and identity types including dresses, garbs, and regalia, are discussed with a clear vision that their importance in Islamic societies emanates from their conformity with teachings on Islamic law, morality, theology, and mysticism.
The material culture of Islam includes objects, artifacts, and facets of Islamic arts created in diverse Islamic communities in the continents of Asia, Africa, Europe, and the Americas. Comprising cultural products of spiritual reflections, they are embedded in the Muslim ethos and worldview but also function to facilitate learning and mediation of social interactions and relations. Broadly, the utility derived from such products and their performance is expected to conform to acceptable Islamic symbolism and communicative functions.
The mosque or masjid is a center for community prayer throughout Muslim society that communicates sacred space or history as exemplified in the Ka ba in Mecca. Mosques also reveal a complexity of issues including the expressions of the diversity of faith and its practicality as manifest in the multiple identities in Muslim societies. Exemplifying Muslim aesthetics grounded in the religions, epistemology, the mosque is situated and created not as an obsolete innovation but as the product of the thoughts, experiences, and environments of its interlocutors. As works of art, mosques are not created ex nihilo but their sophistication in form and image represents the very essence and symbolism of Islamic cultures of sacred space.
The religious symbolism expressed in sacred buildings also manifests in the material cultures exemplified and traced through clothing and adorned regalia. Muslim conventions of dress and garb form potent symbols of identification and lifestyles. Some historical apparel probably worn for special occasions was preserved in respectful memories of its genteel or famous owners, usually rulers and their progenitors. Other garbs are worn for their ascribed powers, especially their ability to protect the wearer and ward off evil. Famous in this category of protective regalia are the talismanic shirts worn by various sultans of the Ottoman Empire. Embroidered in expensive silks and calligraphic verses of the Qur˒an and other paraphernalia, talismanic shirts were gowns and garbs attributed with sacred qualities, but they also embodied the very essence of mysticism and the magico-religious aspects of Islam. Sacred garbs also include the khirqa, literally meaning "a robe worn," which are actually garments or specialized cloaks worn and revered by the ascetic class, the Sufi. In Sufism aspirants in stages of spiritual pedagogy were bestowed with baraka (blessing) once they were given the khirqa symbolizing that the wearer possesses special qualities from the master. The felt is a woolen fabric of great social significance that appeared in regions dominated by the Ottoman Empire; it played an important part in the lives of Turkomens, who traditionally lived in tents made of white and black felt symbolizing wealth and poverty. The Kazakhs lived in felt tents known as kiyiz uy. Felt-making was widespread among the Seljuk and Ottoman Turks and their craftsmen played an important role in the mystic trade organization known as ahi. One of the most pronounced felt products is the stiff felt cloak, the kepenek, a distinctive garment worn by shepherds to protect themselves from heat in summer and from cold and wet in winter. The most famous felt garment of all is the tall conical cap, sikke, made in the city of Konya in Turkey and worn by the Mevlevi dervishes.
The long-sleeved white gown (thob) and headcoverings (taqiyya and khafiya) of the Arabian peninsula accompanied Islam as it spread and became almost hallmarks of Islamic identity. African Muslim communities have internalized and indigenized some of these gowns, including the East African loose caftan top for men, the kanzu, and the cap, or kofia. The cap is the most visible communicator of identity and religious authority among male Muslims. A West African Muslim male would hardly venture outside without his hula, and the Swahili man is incomplete if he does not have his kofia during social occasions. Any Muslim may wear a cap but the position attributed to the individual is also gathered from the expressive importance of the quality of fabrics and the ornate designs of the kofia or hula. Those with intricate patterns like jani la mbaazi (the green pea leaf), or chapa msikiti (the mosque design), are the most adorned in East African Islam. Among Hijaz Arabs the ghutra (white scarf) is a modern innovation of official dress when topped with the ˓igal, or black rope crown, while men in Iraq, Jordan, and Palestine usually wear a white or red- or black-checked kufiyya with the ˓iqal. Historically, among urban men the most common form of headcovering was the taqiyya, a small cap, covered by an ˓imama, an embroidered silk scarf that was larger than the ghutra, and was wrapped tightly around the head. This practice largely died out as men started wearing fezzes in the twentieth century, and now most male city dwellers in Arab cities leave their heads bare.
Decorative Arts, Writing, and Music
Islamic material culture also embraces varied facets of visual and decorative arts. These items have no ascribed tangible value but are useful in expressing and transmitting remembered emotions and have a role in evoking intense social reactions. For example, Turkish kilim (rugs) hanging on the walls of living rooms have no tangible meanings, except for the memory of a glorious past visit to Istanbul. The expression of wealth and power could be exhibited through panoplies of objects and repertoires of gestures showing privileged knowledge. The handheld staff, bakora, carried by members of Swahili communities, is usually made of wood. It may be engraved in gold or laced with ivory, and functions to negotiate and symbolize masculine power just as the sword displays authority in the process of negotiating for privileges and personal identity among Arab groups. In the spiritual realm, the handheld tasbihi (prayer beads) are a symbol of piety.
The material culture of Islam may include the written arts represented by a variety of script forms. Writing developed in Islamic societies because of the need to record every syllable of the revelation of the Qur˒an. Thus, the written script was revered and its mastery became an accomplishment for any Muslim. In its nascent development as a liturgical script form, writing depended on Sufi expressions of piety as its calligraphic form became the manifestation of spirituality, that is, of inward perfection. Calligraphy attains levels of religious consecration because its production entails notions that purity of writing is purity of soul, thus making stern ascetic demands on the master calligrapher. Works of Islamic calligraphy are revered objects of material cultures, exhibited in museums, homes, and other places of historical preservation.
Various musical genres have developed in Islamic communities and one type, the taarab, is popular among Muslims in East Africa. Taarob, which means "to be moved, or agitated by the sound of music," includes both vocal and instrumental forms like the bashraf, which is played with a variety of instruments, such as the nai, udi, and zeze.
The material culture of Islam ranges widely and represents a cross-fertilization of common ideas and religious expressions in global Islamic communities, nevertheless displaying unity in diversity.
See alsoAfrican Culture and Islam ; American Culture and Islam ; Architecture ; Art ; Calligraphy ; Central Asian Culture and Islam ; Clothing ; European Culture and Islam ; Music ; South Asian Culture and Islam ; Southeast Asian Culture and Islam .
Dilley, R. "Tukolor Weaving Origin Myths: Islam and Reinterpretation." The Diversity of the Muslim Community: Anthropological Essays in Memory of Peter Lienhardt. Edited by Ahmed Al-Shahi. London: Ithaca Press, 1987.
Hodder, Ian. The Meaning of Things: Material Culture andSymbolic Expressions. London and Boston: Unwin Hyman, 1989.
Miller, Daniel. Material Culture and Mass Consumption. Oxford, U.K., and New York: Blackwell, 1989.
Stillman, Yedida Kalfon. Arab Dress: A Short History from theDawn of Islam to Modern Times. Edited by Norman A. Stillman. Leiden Boston: Brill, 2000.
"Material Culture." Encyclopedia of Islam and the Muslim World. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 10, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/material-culture
"Material Culture." Encyclopedia of Islam and the Muslim World. . Retrieved September 10, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/material-culture
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Material culture may be defined as the human significance of the totality of tangible artifacts that humans have produced. These artifacts range from the mundane and perishable to the monumental and enduring, and have been linked together in distinctive ways across place and time. Scholarly attention to material culture beyond technical analyses is divided among mainstream disciplines such as history and anthropology and specializations such as art history, archaeology, history of technology, cultural geography, and philosophy of technology. In all instances, questions of the ethical implications of material culture call for reflective consideration.
Despite the manifold plurality of material cultures across places and times, the Industrial Revolution of late-eighteenth-century England introduced a watershed into human history that began a radical transformation in the general character of material culture across all of its permutations. The steam engine for the first time in human history provided a tireless, ubiquitous, and powerful prime mover. Coal became a seemingly limitless energy source, and iron and steel constituted a material for structures that were both large and finely articulated.
Already in the nineteenth century, this transformation exhibited creative and destructive aspects, both noted by Karl Marx (1818–1883) and Friedrich Engels (1820–1895) in The Communist Manifesto (1848). About the creative side they said: "The need of a constantly expanding market chases the bourgeoisie over the whole surface of the globe. It must nestle everywhere, settle everywhere, establish connections everywhere" (Marx and Engels 1955 , p. 13). This creative process has continued over the past century and a half and is much discussed in the early 2000s under the term globalization.
The destructive side Marx and Engels described as follows: "All that is solid melts into the air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses his real conditions of life and his relations with his kind" (Marx and Engels 1955 , p. 13). They described the dissolution more specifically in their description of how the labor power of workers was being torn out of its traditional context of personal relations, social bonds, and ownership of stores and tools and converted into a commodity whose price was being more and more depressed. Marx's Capital (1867) extended this analysis to all those things that used to be rooted in the production and consumption of the household and were pulled into the market by industry and commerce. This process too is still being discussed vigorously, and Anglo-American scholars have coined the term commodification as a covering concept.
Both creation and destruction are pervaded by a third process, a dematerialization and refinement of production and consumption. John Kenneth Galbraith (1967) noted how the basis of economic power had shifted since the eighteenth century from land via capital to expertise. Daniel Bell (1973) described a similar shift from extraction via fabrication to processing. Remarkably, Thomas J. Schlereth (1982) observed a broadly analogous process of sophistication in the scholarly concern with material culture. He distinguished the "The Age of Collecting (1876–1948)" from the "The Age of Description (1948–1965)" and the "The Age of Analysis (1965–)." The current end phase of this development is also much considered and contested in the early twenty-first century under such headings as the computer era or the information age.
Modern technology began as a widespread activity of inspired tinkering and ingenious inventing in the last third of the eighteenth century. It was well underway before the natural sciences in the nineteenth century caught up with technology and, through the explanation of heat, pressure, electricity, and materials, became an engine of innovation. Technological devices, in turn, began to open up deeper dimensions of familiar phenomena and entirely new areas of investigation. Research and development have to this day been the major sources of productivity growth and thus of an exploding material culture. By now technology and science have so fulsomely embraced one another that it has become fashionable to see them as one creature—technoscience (Ihde and Selinger 2003). It is an undeniable fact, to be sure, that much of science is undertaken for technological gain and that technology has stimulated science and made it more effective; yet technology and science remain distinguishable and, from the moral point of view, need to be distinguished.
When it comes to its ethical examination, Marx may again be considered a founding figure in his ambivalence about the moral quality of the newly emerging material culture. Under the surface, Marx regretted the loss of traditional things and relations. Overtly, however, he considered the world of the past as one of oppression, exploitation, and even idiocy, and he embraced the Industrial Revolution and its fruits. What he emphatically found objectionable and doomed was not the quality of the new material culture, but maldistribution in the power over production and in the blessings of consumption.
Because it does not examine or question the internal moral structure and properties of the artifacts modern technology has produced, Marx's moral judgment of the material culture is an extrinsic one. It has in fact become the received wisdom of social theory that there are no morally significant internal structures or properties and that tangible technology is thus morally neutral. Accordingly, when considering how standard ethical theories and more popular moral positions bear on contemporary material culture, all those bearings turn out to be extrinsic.
This does not mean they are unimportant. Consider the two leading contemporary ethical theories. The first is the ethics of equality and liberty, masterfully represented by John Rawls (1999) and technically known as deontology. It contends that inequalities in power and prosperity are warranted only if everyone has an opportunity to become powerful and prosperous, and if inequalities are to the benefit of the poor and powerless. This implies a significant and well-warranted critique of how prosperity and the material objects of which it consists are distributed nationally and globally. At the same time Rawls makes the debatable claim that prosperity and opportunity in themselves can be defined in a morally thin or neutral sense.
The other leading contemporary moral theory is utilitarianism, which is concerned with maximizing the happiness of a given population (Sidgwick 1981 ). The animating principle of utilitarianism is as intuitively simple and attractive as it is technically difficult and forbidding. Finding a measure for happiness, establishing the maximizing procedure, and defining the relevant population have turned out to be endlessly complicated and controversial problems that at every turn threaten implementation with paralysis. Utilitarianism becomes a feasible program if one substitutes prosperity for happiness and agrees to measure prosperity with money. The resulting moral theory—what may be termed monetary utilitarianism—dominates public policy decision-making in the advanced industrial countries and retains some of the affirmative and forward-looking spirit of the original conception. Maximizing becomes equated with increasing the gross domestic product by all available means, a person's happiness is measured by income and prosperity, and the relevant population is the citizenry of a nation. All this is animated by a spirit of optimism and tolerance. But utilitarianism, monetary or not, remains neutral when it comes to the moral quality of the goods that, along with the services, compose prosperity or lead to happiness. This is how utilitarians understand tolerance.
Environmentalism and Religion
The two more popular moral positions that bear on the material culture are environmentalism and religion. Environmentalists, broadly speaking, regard contemporary material culture as hypertrophic (growing excessively) and ruinous. Hence they counsel a reduction of material possession and consumption. This too is a moral injunction on the material culture—and one that is important and would be beneficial if heeded. But as practiced, environmentalism would not require a deeper understanding and a transformation of the moral quality of material culture. One might continue to enjoy the same tangible and consumable objects, albeit in environmentally sustainable versions—sitting on natural-fiber couches, drinking beer brewed from organically grown barley and hops, eating chips made from genetically unmodified corn, staring at a television set that, at the end of its useful life, the producer has to take back and recycle in its entirety. All of this would make the material culture simpler in quality and reduced in quantity, but not essentially different in character.
The most pointed and the best-known critique of the material culture comes from religious ethics. It condemns materialism—the excessive concern with material goods. Pope John Paul II has been a vocal proponent of this criticism, and his voice may seem a lonely one because, at least in the United States, Christianity and materialism seem to be anything but antagonistic. When questioned, however, Americans profess to be worried about materialism (Wuthnow 1996, Schor 1998). These worries surface in movements that range from Luddism to voluntary simplicity (Elgin 1981).
Materialism is an ill-defined phenomenon. The concern with material objects covers such disparate things—television sets and sport-utility vehicles (SUVs) are material objects, but so are musical instruments and bicycles. Can't one at least say that, no matter the kinds of material objects, there are simply too many? Aren't humans consuming too much and thus running out of raw materials, food, timber, and energy? And in the process, aren't the industrialized countries of the northern hemisphere exploiting those of the globe's southern half? According to Mark Sagoff (1997), however, these apprehensions turn out to rest on misconceptions.
Two conclusions appear to follow. First, the religious objection to materialism stands no matter how materialism is defined. Excessive concern with any kind of material object is a distraction from spiritual matters or the afterlife. Second, secular worries about materialism are unfounded, and a secular outlook on life cannot have objections in principle to the current way of taking up with material culture. Both conclusions leave one uneasy, however. As to the first, excessive concern with tangible stuff is morally objectionable by definition. But what about appreciation and enjoyment of the visible world? Some religious traditions at least think of the tangible world as created by God and therefore as fundamentally good. Secular folks who worry about materialism have something specific in mind, namely, consumerism (Wuthnow 1996, Schor 1998). Materialism in this sense is a preoccupation with a particular kind of material object, consumable objects, presumably. There is a need, then, for an intrinsic analysis of material goods and for a determination of whether their internal structure is ethically potent.
Material Goods Themselves
One school of thought has it that material goods are used to mark and enforce class distinctions (Veblen 1992, Douglas and Isherwood 1979, Schor 1998). Though this is certainly true and morally troubling, it reveals little about the specific quality of goods produced by modern technology. Horses, servants, and mansions were used to signal high status prior to the Industrial Revolution, and sumptuary laws were used to enforce class distinctions more rigorously than even Ferraris do in the early 2000s. Here again a cue may be taken from Marx or at least from his progeny. Like Marx, more recent left-liberal theorists have examined the transformation things undergo when they are drawn into market. Commodification is the term used to name this phenomenon, and the term carries connotations of disapproval, unlike the coreferential term that conservatives prefer, namely, privatization, or the term of mixed connotations, namely, commercialization.
Commodification has a clean and crisp economic definition: the process of moving something into the market—from either the intimate sphere or the public sphere—so that it becomes available for sale and purchase. In the case of a good from the public sphere, a public good is converted into a commodity, and, speaking more precisely, privatization is commodification in this latter sense only. Some of the public goods, such as justice and elementary education, are not material, of course, but others, such as transportation or a healthy environment, clearly are. The same distinction applies to intimate goods. Friendship and freedom are not material goods, but food and clothing are.
Commodification of intangible goods is morally objectionable because in this case a good commodified becomes a good corrupted. Justice bought is no longer justice, and friendship paid for is not real friendship. But no such opprobrium seems to taint tangible goods. Railroads are managed as public goods by governments in some countries, whereas in others they are private enterprises run for profit. Food and clothing have left the intimate sphere of the household so long ago that people no longer notice their peculiarities as commodities. Accordingly, Michael Walzer (1983), who has thought deeply about commodification (though he does not use the word), has drawn up a list of never-to-be-commodified goods, all of which are intangible.
Is there a way of capturing the apprehensions about consumerism, the suspicion that commodification of material goods is a process whereby "all that is holy is profaned" or that at least some holy things are profaned? The sacredness of food is certainly lost when it is shelved in a supermarket. The sacredness of nature is gone when it becomes an engineered setting for the wilderness lodge in Disney World. The holiness of things, or, more prosaically, their power to engage people deeply, is lost when things are stripped of their spatial, temporal, and social contexts, when those contexts are reconstituted and concealed technological means, and when the resulting commodities are made available for sale.
Commodification, then, is a cultural as well as an economic process. These two processes largely overlap, but not entirely. The food in a supermarket is commodified both economically and culturally. A typical farmers' market is a scene of economic commodification. The food, after all, is for sale. But significant contexts are there to be experienced directly. The local market reflects its special context in the fruits and vegetables that the local soil and climate can produce. It reflects the season with the hardy stuff appearing early in the year and the more tender things not until summer. Sellers are known for their expertise in growing this or that, and they establish ties of expectations and pleasure with their customers.
Conversely, tourists whose only concern is to capture the sights and scenes with their cameras deracinate treasures, trees, and towers and make them available as videos that can be shown anywhere and any time. They commodify their travels culturally though rarely economically. The things on those videos are severed from their here and now, but few would pay to see those desiccated things.
What is driving commodification? In its economic aspect it is certainly propelled by the pursuit of prosperity. This is a creditable desire, and many are grateful beneficiaries of at least some important parts of this affluence. The less noticed kinetic force of commodification is the desire for liberty—less noticed because one tends to think of liberty exclusively as political, the freedom from the oppression by persons. But, prior to the Industrial Revolution, there were also burdens and claims of material reality: the need to shear, card, and spin wool, and knit it into sweaters; the need to plant, water, weed, harvest, clean, prepare, and cook beans; and so on. Commodification, taken culturally, disburdens people of these requirements, and consumption can be taken in a culturally corresponding sense as the unencumbered enjoyment of commodities. Dematerialization turns out to be a consistent tendency of commodification. The less materially heavy and imposing commodities are, the more variously and easily they will be available and consumable. Technologically perfect virtual realities are the endpoint of this process.
Disburdenment too has its undeniable moral benefits, certainly when it comes to such basic parts of the material culture as water, warmth, and light. But disburdenment can hypertrophy from liberation to disengagement and lead to the physical and mental shapelessness that plagues the most advanced industrial societies. There is then a need to save or selectively reintroduce those material things that rightfully claim people's engagement and exertion, things such as musical instruments, gourmet kitchens, running trails, urbane cities, and more.
Morally debilitating commodification is not a problem for most people on the globe, namely, those who suffer from hunger, disease, illiteracy, and confinement. Appropriate globalizing of commodification is morally desirable. But finding a measure for appropriate globalization and for the readjustment of the material culture requires understanding the cultural and moral aspects of commodification. It is hard, however, to meet this task when science and technology are conceptually fused or rather confused into technoscience. Consider genetics. There are things to be found out about how genes and proteins relate to one another and how genes cooperate with one another and with environmental conditions to help produce brains, dispositions, and behavior. To come to understand these things is progress, and once clearly understood, the resulting knowledge compels assent. But there is nothing obviously progressive or compelling in the application of such knowledge. The eradication of aging and a massive deferral of dying may not be progress at all, and nothing compels one to think of those goals as desirable. These are moral issues that call for wisdom and persuasion.
Bell, Daniel. (1973). The Coming of Post-industrial Society. New York: Basic.
Borgmann, Albert. (1984). Technology and the Character of Contemporary Life: A Philosophical Inquiry. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Borgmann, Albert. (1995). "The Moral Significance of Material Culture." In Technology and the Politics of Knowledge, ed. Andrew Feenberg and Alastair Hannay. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
Douglas, Mary, and Baron Isherwood. (1979). The World of Goods. New York: Basic.
Elgin, Duane. (1981). Voluntary Simplicity. New York: Morrow.
Galbraith, John Kenneth. (1967). The New Industrial State. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
Ihde, Don, and Evan Selinger, eds. (2003). Chasing Technoscience: Matrix for Materiality. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. Includes work by Donna Haraway, Bruno Latour, Andrew Pickering, and the editors.
Marx, Karl. (2003 ). Das Kapital. Cologne, Germany: Parkland.
Marx, Karl, and Friedrich Engels. (1955 ). The Communist Manifesto, ed. Samuel H. Beer. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts.
Rawls, John. (1999). A Theory of Justice, rev. edition. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, Belknap Press.
Sagoff, Mark. (1997). "Do We Consume Too Much?" Atlantic Monthly 279(6): 80–96.
Schlereth, Thomas J. (1982). "Material Culture Studies in America, 1876–1976." In Material Culture Studies in America, ed. Thomas J. Schlereth. Nashville, TN: American Association for State and Local History.
Schor, Juliet B. (1998). The Overspent American. New York: Basic.
Sidgwick, Henry. (1981 ). The Methods of Ethics. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett.
Veblen, Thorstein. (1992 ). The Theory of the Leisure Class. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers.
Walzer, Michael. (1983). Spheres of Justice. New York: Basic.
Wuthnow, Robert. (1996). Poor Richard's Principle: Recovering the American Dream through the Moral Dimension of Work, Business, and Money. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
"Material Culture." Encyclopedia of Science, Technology, and Ethics. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 10, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/science/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/material-culture
"Material Culture." Encyclopedia of Science, Technology, and Ethics. . Retrieved September 10, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/science/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/material-culture
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Material culture refers to the pattern of tangible, human-made forms as an indicator of cultural ideas and traditions. While architecture, art, craft, food, and dress are genres represented in material culture, the emphasis in material culture analysis is upon discerning patterns, landscapes, symbols, and behaviors that cross these genres and characterize the built environment. Material culture often refers to social relations among people mediated by objects and, therefore, involves connections to intellectual and social systems in communities and regions.
The period of the new American nation, sometimes referred in historical material culture typologies as the Federal period, is particularly significant for material culture analysis because of the development of a national design alongside the ongoing regional and ethnic folk cultures, often formed out of the hybridization of transplanted traditions and responses to the new environment. The Eastern seaboard that Europeans and Africans encountered was filled with natural wonders, but there were few of the ancient ruins and remains that characterized the Old World. As settlement pushed the frontier westward and crossed natural as well as social borders, residents formed cultural landscapes for a new land and nation. Into the nineteenth century, migrant settlers
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shaped the New World's environments; they were cognizant of their traditions but willing to reshape them for the new land and a sense of community. As citizens of the new American nation, many settlers indeed asked whether a national architecture, art, and food could possibly unite the wide expanse of the American cultural landscape from the commons, maple syrup, and connected farmsteads of New England to the plantations and sorghum of the Deep South.
native and african influences
Drawing on early American historical experience, an assessment of material culture can draw contrasts between American Indian, northern European, and African influences on the landscape. In colonial New England and Virginia, according to this perspective, different material culture systems came into conflict when English settlers confronted Native Americans. Observers noted that the English system was built on the formation of lines and rectangles, while many Indian tribes relied on a base concept of the circle. English architecture was organized on a rectangular foundation and therefore emphasized human control over the landscape. The English conception of time and age was linear, and English settlements were permanent and arranged on a grid with privately owned properties. Indian settlements were mobile and often arranged in circular patterns, their conception of time and age was cyclical, and tribal architecture was based less on human dominance than on a relationship with nature.
Both groups practiced agriculture, and much of the cultural borrowing that occurred between them seems to have been in various forms of food, including tobacco, corn, and maple syrup. The dugout canoe used by European Americans was indebted to Indian technology, but the Europeans did not adopt the crooked knife of the Indians, held in one hand and used by cutting away from the body; Europeans preferred the shaving knife, held in two hands and used by cutting toward the body. Some architectural exchange apparently took place in lumbering areas, where building in bark was borrowed from Indian sources.
Enslaved Africans in the American South were forcibly acculturated to European American material systems, but strong signs of ethnic maintenance are evident in privatized areas of house interiors, crafts, dress, and foodways. An example is the African American head wrap, a cloth tied around the head that emphasized the upward vertical extension of the head, in contrast to the European American scarf and bonnet that was fastened to extend down the back of the neck. Africans adapted the British American quilt form of symmetrical blocks to show the African aesthetics of textile strips across the blanket, often with irregular designs. Evidence of cultural exchange also includes the spread of the Deep South's front porch and long shotgun house, American developments of African origin. African influences are particularly evident in American instrument making. The African banjar, with a skin stretched over a deep gourd, and the instrument's distinctive feature of a plucked short drone string on the neck entered into general American culture during the 1830s.
regions of material culture
The persistence of westward movement through the nineteenth century has informed the idea that the distinctive characteristics of American material culture which developed in that century were based on the clearing of the forested wilderness and a reliance on wood as the primary component of construction. This movement westward helped shape a new national identity, assimilate immigrant groups into the aesthetics of a pioneer American society, and encourage
the removal of indigenous peoples. Particularly for groups that did not plan to return to Europe but, rather, were making a fresh start with a commitment to making a home or establishing a religious or political haven in the New World, settlement was more than just a matter of transplanting the Old World to the New. As can be seen by the migration of log construction from a core area in the mid-Atlantic to the South and West or the wide adaptation of Native American foodways, there was an openness to technologies that fit the environment while conforming to familiar aesthetics and traditions. Nonetheless, the first permanent European settlements in the American experience effectively determined the future course of material culture development and the formation of regions in the new American nation.
Material culture regions emerged from settlements on the Eastern seaboard around four main ports of entry and subsequent migrations. Scholars frequently use the metaphor of a "hearth" to describe the central sustaining influence of settlement patterns through these ports of entry on cultural formation. The New England hearth, with its strong English stamp, was based in the Cape Cod area and from there material culture patterns established by English settlers spread north to New Hampshire and Maine and westward across New York and Michigan. The Chesapeake-Tidewater hearth influenced the movement of material culture across Maryland and Virginia into the upland South. The lowland South hearth, featuring a strong African influence, worked its way through South Carolina and Georgia into the Deep South. The last hearth to form was in Pennsylvania, where Palatine Germans, Swiss Anabaptists, English Quakers, French Huguenots, and Scots-Irish influenced the formation of a plural society and a strong inland Pennsylvania-German culture subregion that spread into the Midwest. While the Pennsylvania cultural hearth is considered to show the most hybridization out of the multiple ethnic influences in the settlement, each of the hearths reveals some cultural hybridization, giving rise to a distinctive American material culture.
New England. In New England, a noticeable settlement pattern brought from England was the town common, or green. It was not prevalent in other regions, and was influenced in New England by the Puritan idea of mutual aid and meeting undergirding a community, stated in documents such as the Mayflower Compact (1620). In some New England towns the common was called the "meetinghouse lot" because it lay near the chief public structure. Originally intended as a common space for grazing the livestock owned by townspeople, it came to signify the corporate spirit that shaped space and structure. Around the green emerged separated, individualized houses, often single-bay, story-and-a-half structures meant for nuclear families; but the green and meetinghouse gathered people together and centered the town. Houses and fields took shape according to community will; land committees assigned acreage and town meetings arranged the placement of mills and blacksmith shops as well as controlling the activities of millers and blacksmiths. Graveyards were often established as common space where the elite as well as ordinary townspeople were buried. The pattern of community spirit and town meetings continued into the founding of the new nation as communally built roads, bridges, and jails multiplied and the tradition of common land became a sign of the new democratic Republic.
The ordinary New England house and barn took advantage of the abundance of forested land to build in wood with an abandon unknown in England. One sign of the new landscape was the replacement of thatch as a roofing material by wooden shingles. The Cape Cod house, consisting of a central chimney and central doorway with a kitchen on one side of the hearth and front and back rooms on the other, was an adaptation of the English hall house. With a lean- to on the back to allow an extension, the house took the shape of a saltbox and became known as a standard regional type. Not far from the house, the English barn reflected the symmetry of the house and was used as a threshing floor and a location for social dances. It had a central entrance on the nongable end and was built flat on the ground. Toward northern New England, one could find connected farmsteads that brought house and barn together in a linear pattern. Not simply a reaction to the cold and snow of harsh New England winters, the line of connected buildings sheltered a south- or east-facing work yard, called the dooryard, from north or west winter winds. It developed even more as a response to multipurpose agricultural production, including a mixed husbandry system of working with a variety of crops and animal products and involvement in home industry for non-agricultural sources of income (e.g., lumbering, clothing, and basketry).
As New Englanders moved west across New York State, the connected farmstead gave way to a dispersed farm-building layout, but the tradition of the workyard remained. A distinctive material landscape emerged particularly in towns along the Erie Canal. There, cobblestones were used as building materials in public and private buildings. In the Hudson Valley, Dutch building skills from the seventeenth century continued in many families and could be discerned in the rise of New World Dutch barns, noticeable in their open interior space and steep-pitched roofs. The farmstead might also have another distinctive form marking a New World Dutch identity: a hay barrack, usually smaller than its Old World counterpart. Consisting of a movable roof resting on four posts, it provided flexible hay storage and reminded English neighbors of ethnic differences in agricultural building design.
Pennsylvania. In Pennsylvania and the Delaware Valley, a varied combination of English Quakers and Anglicans, Scots-Irish Presbyterians, German Mennonites and Reformed, and Lutherans, among others, participated in William Penn's Holy Experiment, which promised religious tolerance and entrepreneurial opportunity in wooded and mountainous areas thought to be a barrier to settlement. Germans and Scots-Irish enthusiastically sought farmland and put distance between themselves and Quaker control. Visitors remarked on the isolated, self-contained, German-speaking "Dutchland" forming inland and the migration of Scots-Irish and Germans into Virginia's Shenandoah Valley to help form the hardscrabble Appalachian region. The region's mountain dulcimer, for example, was derived from the German zither and was used to accompany old British ballads. The "pot pie" (actually appearing to be more of a stew with dumplings and chicken) associated with Pennsylvania-German cuisine maintained the heavy dough and gravy diet of Central Europe while borrowing the terminology of the British "pie." Farmlands were at first devoted to wheat, but later a corn-pig complex was developed by which corn supplied a grain for baking as well as food for livestock. Many Pennsylvania foods that spread beyond the German population, including sausage, scrapple, and corn mush, relied on this complex. Probably best-known of the German American traditions that spread widely into American material culture were the holiday customs of the indoor Christmas tree, the Easter bunny, and decorated egg tree.
Most notable on the Dutchland landscape was the large, two- or three-level Pennsylvania barn, which featured a German-looking forebay hanging over a sublevel on one side and an inclined bank leading to an entrance on the nongable side. It departed, however, from the forms of many lower Rhineland barns in its nongable entrance, perhaps adapted from English barns. The German house also went through an Anglicization and later an Americanization process. Known for its asymmetrical flurkuchenhaus, or continental German type of dwelling, the house of Rhineland settlers in Pennsylvania usually had an entrance that led on one side directly into the kitchen hearth, which extended to the back of the house. On the other side were a wide front room, or Stube (literally the "stove room"), and the sleeping chamber, or Kammer. The chimney was therefore off center in the house, and befitting the dough cuisine, it often contained an exterior bread-baking oven. In some areas, the oven was in a separate structure. With the spread of English political influence in urbanizing areas, many houses took on more of the symmetry of the Georgian high-style exterior while often retaining the long kitchen and two side rooms. A folk type that developed out of this hybridization throughout the mid-Atlantic region used two front doors and the German-type interior in contrast to the central hallway and four evenly spaced rooms of the Georgian plan. Although the German type persisted into the nineteenth century in many rural areas of the state and in several communal societies such as Ephrata, Bethlehem, and Harmony, the central passage and decorative architectural features of eagles and classical pediments were increasingly in evidence on the two-story, two-room-wide, two-room-deep mid-Atlantic house. The eagles and classical features even appeared on furnishings (e.g., painted dower chests) and illuminated manuscripts (e.g., Taufscheine, or baptismal certificates) alongside the traditional German symbols of the heart, tulip, and distelfink (an ornamental bird design deriving from the German for "goldfinch;" it is often used to represent good luck and happiness and is sometimes shown as two attached birds facing away from each other).
The Chesapeake Tidewater. In the source area of the Chesapeake Tidewater, running from Baltimore down to the coast of North Carolina and inland to the Blue Ridge Mountains, settlers developed a material culture based largely upon the cultivation of tobacco. By the end of the eighteenth century, householders had developed specialized barns for curing their tobacco with loosely jointed sideboards to allow air to flow among the hanging leaves. Barns, dwellings, and fences reflected the transiency of their builders. The tobacco barns and small stables of the Tidewater region appeared astonishingly flimsy to visiting Europeans and northern farmers. If not cultivating tobacco, many southern planters erected log doublecrib barns based on a type found in Central Europe; these barns were found especially further inland into the Tennessee Valley at the beginning of the nineteenth century. As storage needs grew, they expanded into a New World form of the four-crib barn with a central passageway (one of its two passageways was blocked off to provide additional stabling), thus forming a transverse-crib barn.
The settlers in the Tidewater understood themselves as southerners by the contrast of their built landscapes to the corn-pig complexes and multipurpose agricultural systems furthern north. With wood being plentiful, they created a building style adaptable to an agricultural crop that exhausted the soil and forced them frequently to move on to new arable land. Their "worm" fences, made from split rails heaped loosely upon one another in self-supporting zigzag patterns enclosing their fields, could easily be dismantled as well as erected. These fences appeared to waste vast amounts of wood, but they had the advantage of needing no posts or postholes, thus allowing for quick mobility and expansion.
The most distinctive folk house-type to emerge in the Tidewater and spread outward through the South was the one-room-deep hall and parlor house, which developed into the two-story, one-room-deep "I house." Frequently built of wood rather than brick, the hall and parlor were fashioned largely after the English original but were frequently adapted to the hot, humid climate of the South. It had a raised foundation to avoid water damage to the first floor; external chimneys to maximize heat loss; a deep, shady front porch; and frequently a breezeway or central passageway that allowed air to flow through. A peculiarly southern terminology emerged for variations of its two-room-wide, one-room-deep structures that developed in the early nineteenth century, including "dogtrot," "saddlebag," and "double-pen" houses. Some observers have noted that unlike the sturdy bay or room of the North, the southern pen connoted impermanence as well as an adaptation to the expansiveness of the southern landscape. This pattern fostered an American material culture of mobility, which included the development of largewheeled vehicles, use of wood for road coverings, and clothing such as lightweight fabrics and protective bonnets for women and durable broadcloth pants
and riding boots for men. Scholars have speculated whether this mobility also fueled an increased taste for consumer goods, since people on the move demanded ready-made domestic products.
Deep South and Louisiana Purchase. The development of plantations for cotton and rice in the Deep South, meanwhile, included the common layout of the big house and slave cabins behind the big house. In South Carolina the line of slave cabins was known on the rice plantations as "the street" with a white overseer's house at its end. The slave houses exemplified British house-types, typically single-story or hall and parlor cabins with symmetrical fenestration. Some observers have noted that African American carpenters built broad front porches unlike those in Europe and thereby taught their masters about adapting to a hot climate. Slave women learned quilting from European American tradition but applied quilt patterns, especially the ubiquitous strip or string quilt characteristic of West African textiles. Outside the cabin, slaves continued the African tradition of having dry gardens by sweeping dirt to form aesthetic patterns in front yards. In death, African American cemeteries featured mounded dirt graves with shells and broken crockery in keeping with African funerary practices.
Hybridization in New World material culture was particularly noticeable to Americans in the southern portion of the Louisiana Purchase (1803), previously colonized by France and Spain. Along the Mississippi River into New Orleans and the Louisiana bayou, Afro-Caribbean influences could be discerned in the early nineteenth century; along with French and Spanish colonial cultural exchanges, they created a distinctive Creole society. Especially conspicuous on the built landscape was the "shotgun" house, reminiscent of Haitian and West African building styles of one room behind another and a front porch, in contradistinction to the two-room-wide, one-room-deep pattern of British folk house-types. On the American landscape, a third and even fourth room was added. (The kitchen was typically in the rear, the front or common space in the front, and sleeping areas in between.) Characterized by a narrow facade and extreme length, the shotgun might be constructed with wood or brick or with infilling between vertical posts, following French tradition. In keeping with African tradition, the front-to-rear arrangement of the house lacked privacy and encouraged socialization. One American response was the development of the double shotgun house to provide a two-room-wide structure with two front doors reminiscent of the double pen. A room on one side might be removed to create a deep corner porch and main entrance through the social space of the porch, as was common in northern Louisiana. Metal gravemarkers commonly seen in cemeteries also derived from French tradition, but some black Creoles shaped the crosses into heads and animals following Afro-Caribbean tradition.
the federal style
While strong ethnic cultural sources and migration patterns influenced the development of America's regional differences into the nineteenth century and beyond, the creation of the new nation also inspired high-style architecture and furnishings, primarily urban, befitting the Federal vision of a new Republic. Often the Federal period in material culture is known for a classical revival, particularly between 1780 and 1830, leading to the Greek Revival in town naming and architecture between 1820 and 1860. Federal architecture derived from the high-style emphasis on symmetry and order from 1700 to 1780 in the British Georgian style that was commonly used in large civic buildings in the English colonies. Georgian architecture had a rectangular plan, often with symmetrical wings flanking each side. Many American architects who had been abroad celebrated its geometric rationality. Over time the facade and interior decorations became more elaborate and often signified imperial excess. The architecture often had a pedimented gable, frequently with a projecting central pavilion or a portico with two-story columns emphasizing authority and power. Brick walls were commonly laid in a fancy Flemish bond pattern. Also influencing the Federal style were the royal architects Robert Adam (1728–1792) and James Adam (1730–1794), who refined the Georgian style with elegant lines and design motifs including fan ornaments, festoons, urns, wreaths, leaves, and petals.
Although echoes of the Adam style are clearly discernible in the Federal style, the American version is often distinguished by emphasis on classical features, extensive use of glass (glass manufactured in the United States was less expensive than that imported from England), and elegantly elaborate doorways. The Federal style also extended from civic and commercial buildings to brick and brownstone urban row houses in both South and North. Federal taste, promoted by celebrated American figures such as Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826), Charles Bulfinch (1763–1844), and Robert Mills (1781–1855) favored giant entrance porticos, sometimes domed; a fanshaped light; a central pediment; and a cupola with arched openings. Exemplary Federal buildings, such as the U.S. Custom House and Public Stores in Salem, Massachusetts, built in 1819, reflected a trend of locating a large, nationalistic eagle on or over the central pediment. The U.S. Capitol, completed in 1827, exemplified the symbolic qualities of the style for the nation. It announced in its classical designs the revival of the Republic; while it owed its inspiration to Europe, it contained distinctive American features such as the neoclassical Statue of Freedom with a Native American crest of an eagle's head, feathers, and talons and a shield with thirteen stripes.
Decorative moldings, friezes, pilasters, and quoins used in the large civic buildings were also adopted in ordinary houses, especially in highlighting the pediment, fanlight, and pilasters around the door. In fancier houses, Federal buildings have sidegabled, center-gabled, or hipped roofs, often enclosed or partially enclosed with a balustrade at the line of the cornice. Furniture also exhibited Federal taste, especially in the stylistic treatment of chairs, chests of drawers, and bookcases in inlaid mahogany with shield designs and central wheat sheaves or urns and plain, tapering legs. Although Windsor chairs are known in England as well as America, American craftsmen during the Federal period developed the fanback style among others and had a fondness for the rocking chair that spread in vernacular forms. Other decorative arts taking on a Federal look included mirrors topped with eagles; brass eagle door knockers; classically inlaid tall and banjo clocks; weathervanes with Columbia and other patriotic symbols; neoclassical dresses featuring a highwaisted bodice; carved pilastered mantelpieces; and silver boxes, pots, and bowls festooned with classical wreaths and plumes. In public places and private interiors, particularly in eastern cities for a rising middle class, the Federal style was expressed materially through classical design and American iconography. It influenced the spread southward and northward from America's midland of the design of America's courthouse on the square and the outlying classical "temple" form of the vernacular upright and wing house. As the Federal building marked America's national aspirations in capital cities, the courthouse square and upright and wing house became hallmarks of the American small town in the new nation.
See alsoAfrican Survivals; American Indians: American Indian Ethnography; Architectural Styles; Architecture; Cemeteries and Burial; Clothing; Farm Making; Food; Furniture; Housing; Immigration and Immigrants; Washington, D.C.
Benes, Peter, ed. House and Home. Dublin, N.H.: Dublin Seminar for New England Folklife, 1988.
Bronner, Simon J. Grasping Things: Folk Material Culture and Mass Society in America. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1986.
Cohen, David Steven. The Dutch-American Farm. New York: New York University Press, 1992.
Foster, Helen Bradley. New Raiments of Self: African American Clothing in the Antebellum South. Oxford, U.K.: Berg, 1997.
Garrett, Wendell. Classic America: The Federal Style and Beyond. New York: Rizzoli, 1992.
Garrison, J. Ritchie, Bernard L. Herman, and Barbara McLean Ward. After Ratification: Material Life in Delaware, 1789–1820. Newark: University of Delaware, 1988.
Hubka, Thomas C. Big House, Little House, Back House, Barn: The Connected Farm Buildings of New England. Hanover, N.H.: University Press of New England, 1984.
Hutchins, Catherine E., ed. Everyday Life in the Early Republic. Winterthur, Del.: H. F. du Pont Winterthur Museum, 1994.
Jakle, John A., Robert W. Bastian, and Douglas K. Meyer. Common Houses in America's Small Towns: The Atlantic Seaboard to the Mississippi Valley. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1989.
Jordan, Terry G. American Log Buildings: An Old World Heritage. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1985.
Joyner, Charles W. Down by the Riverside: A South Carolina Slave Community. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1984.
Kirk, John T. American Furniture and the British Tradition to 1830. New York: Knopf, 1982.
Price, Edward T. "The Central Courthouse Square in the American County Seat." Geographical Review 58 (1968): 29–60.
Puig, Francis J., and Michael Conforti, eds. The American Craftsman and the European Tradition, 1620–1820. Minneapolis, Minn.: Minneapolis Institute of Arts, 1989.
Quimby, Ian M. G., ed. The Craftsman in Early America. New York: Norton, 1984.
St. George, Robert Blair, ed. Material Life in America, 1600–1860. Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1988.
Vlach, John Michael. The Afro-American Tradition in the Decorative Arts. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1978. Reprint, Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1990.
——. Back of the Big House: The Architecture of Plantation Slavery. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1993.
Simon J. Bronner
"Material Culture." Encyclopedia of the New American Nation. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 10, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/material-culture
"Material Culture." Encyclopedia of the New American Nation. . Retrieved September 10, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/material-culture
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Social historians define material culture as the objects of daily life and the meanings that possessors, users, and observers invest in them. On one level the objects of daily life are stable over time. Food, shelter, furnishings, and clothes are common to all Europeans from the Renaissance to the present. On another level such objects vary enormously across different time periods, among different groups, and in different locations. They change drastically in terms of quantity, content, variety, and what their different forms signify to users and observers. For example, certain items of clothing have existed for centuries, like shirts, hats, skirts, and cloaks or coats. But new apparel articles, like long trousers for men, shirtwaist dresses for women, and underwear for everyone, and modifications of old ones, along with styles that change with increasing rapidity, make clothing highly variable. Moreover the connotations of clothing in terms of social standing, political positioning, and personal identity also vary greatly. Europeans have been drinking beer and wine and other fermented beverages since before the Renaissance. However, by the eighteenth century tea and coffee were becoming integral to the European diet, and the locations and manners of their consumption separated the sexes and gave rise to new utensils and social practices. Thus scholars find in material culture a rich source of information on the physical, daily existence of Europeans and how it changed. They also look to material culture for insights into the exercise of power, social relations, group values, and people's sense of themselves as individuals.
The influential historian Fernand Braudel drew attention to what he termed "material life" in his broadly conceived studies of Europe and the world from the fifteenth through the eighteenth centuries. In his works Braudel described in detail and in comparative perspective the objects of everyday existence, including food and drink, housing, furnishings, and clothing, in Europe, Asia, and Latin America during the Renaissance and early modern eras. Using a variety of texts and images he charted developments like the gradual introduction of the fork for eating food or the evolution of household furnishings from simple, carpentered storage boxes or trunks to elaborately decorated and variegated wooden chests of drawers, highboys, sideboards, stands, and desks. Such developments are significant because they reveal a refinement in manners and greater valuation of civility in the first case and more stable residences and an increased sense of security in the second. Braudel's interest was in delineating structures through this inspection of minute daily practices and objects. For Braudel material life, or the deeply internalized habits and implements of routine survival, was the dominant feature of preindustrial European society. He discerned the fundamental rhythms of human existence through close observation of things.
Numerous scholars are indebted to Braudel for his massive research and innovative analysis of everyday objects, and they have furthered the study of material culture by practicing new methodologies, introducing new analytical frameworks, focusing on particular geographic areas or social groups, and extending the time frame both backward and forward. One approach to material culture that several historians have employed fruitfully is to analyze the goods of rulers, aristocrats, and wealthy elites as reflecting certain cultural values and social and political power.
THE POSSESSIONS OF ELITES
The Italian Renaissance commonly is associated with great cultural achievements in the arts and in scholarship. These achievements were closely connected with extensive commercial networks and the accumulation of goods by wealthy Italian merchants, prelates, and princes. In addition to being works of art that represent innovations in perspective, color, and the treatment of the human figure, paintings of the Renaissance portray the settings and objects of everyday life and the values of their owners and patrons. They render in precise and beautiful detail the architecture of houses, the colors and designs of clothing fabrics and wall hangings, and the decorative carving on furniture and in household interiors. Painters represented few items of furniture—storage chests, tables, chairs, and beds—in domestic settings, but these were often skillfully carved and made of fine, polished wood. Plush fabrics, such as velvet, silk, brocade, and fine wool, appear frequently in dazzling colors—scarlet, green, ultramarine blue, russet, and lavender. Typical and opulent interior furnishings in fifteenth-century paintings include brass or silver-gilt candlesticks, tasseled cushions, embroidered cloths, and illuminated manuscripts bound in leather with jeweled clasps. The backgrounds of even religious paintings show rugs from Turkey, porcelain and silk from China, leather bookbindings from Spain, fur-trimmed, brocaded robes of the Ottoman style, and glass from Venice, reflecting the dynamism of the Levantine trade in the Renaissance and its contribution to the material culture of the rich.
The content of many paintings suggests that owners and patrons valued their material possessions and took pride in the prosperity and cultivation that accrued from successful commercial activity. Indeed paintings were commodities and furnishings whose value lay in the cost of the paint and the skill and reputation of the artist. Renaissance princes collected paintings and books as much to assert their status and influence as to promote fine art and humanist learning. The material culture of Renaissance elites reflects a daily practice of acquisitiveness and commercialism as well as erudition and art appreciation.
Patrons and collectors particularly prized antique artifacts because they provided an association between the present and a desirable past. The Renaissance poet Francesco Petrarch (1304–1374), for example, claimed that his possession of a book by Cicero (106–43 b.c.) made him feel like he possessed Cicero himself. In this case a material object embodied the knowledge of one of the ancients. Wealthy and cultivated persons of the Renaissance sought to tie their existence to ancient history through the acquisition of antique artifacts. When the supply of antique objects diminished or disappeared, collectors turned to artifacts of the Renaissance. Thus the private accumulation of historical goods became the foundation of public institutions to display the culture of the present and started a new, Western sensibility about the importance of preserving the past.
Material objects reflected power and wealth in other ways and in other contexts. Queen Elizabeth I (r. 1558–1603) of England spent lavishly in her court to impress the population with her authority and power and to coerce the nobility to spend extravagantly as well. Paintings show the queen dressed in gorgeous silks and fine lace and covered with jewels. She filled her many palatial residences with elegant furnishings and entertained her guests with hunts, dances, performances, and huge banquets consisting of numerous courses and rare dishes. These practices required expensive objects for ritual proceedings that made visible the magnificence and hence the power of the monarchy, and these practices forced the nobility to do the same. Elizabeth wanted the nobles, the chief rivals to her authority, to spend their money and their time at court seeking her favors. This developed into a cycle whereby nobles who wished for royal beneficence spent large amounts to maintain their appearance and status at court. The more they spent, the more they depended on Elizabeth's largesse, and hence the more time and money they were required to spend at court. In this case, then, luxurious objects served as an instrument of power.
King Louis XIV, who ruled France from 1643 to 1715, exercised this technique notably, and his impressive material surroundings subsequently became the model for other rulers in Europe. Louis XIV built the magnificent palace of Versailles outside of Paris and furnished it with tapestries that recounted his glorious deeds on the battlefield. Paintings and sculptures portray the king as imposing, attractive, and effective, and to further enhance his self-image as absolute ruler he constructed the famous hall of mirrors to reflect and multiply his greatness. Surrounding the palace are extensive, carefully trimmed gardens and fountains with sculptures, refreshing and beautiful settings for parties, masquerades, and fireworks displays. Louis and his successors also constructed separate buildings on the royal grounds for more intimate gatherings and pleasures. Louis XIV claimed that he was the state, and his possessions were the visible manifestation of France's power.
In contrast to the absolute monarchies of France, Prussia, and Austria that attempted to construct national unity around royal splendor, the Dutch Republic of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries suggests an alternative interpretation of material culture. Lacking an individual monarch to display publicly his or her power as representative of the state, the Dutch nonetheless placed and used material objects in a manner to assert an emerging national identity. Dutch people were intensely conscious of their Protestant faith and religious morality and sought to endow consumption and goods with moral meaning. They were no strangers to luxurious and exotic goods, since their efficient farming practices and growing trade networks provided them with abundant food, furnishings, and pleasures, even for successful artisans and modest tradespeople. Dutch persons of the middling sort enjoyed satisfying meals of salads, stewed meat, vegetables, fish, and buttered bread with cheese or meat slices. They drank their favorite beverage, beer, out of pewter or silver tankards, some highly decorated. A room in a great merchant's house had walls hung with gold-stamped leather, fifteen paintings, and one ebony-framed mirror. The furniture consisted of an East Indian cabinet, a round nutwood table covered with a Turkish rug, a nutwood buffet, twelve chairs, a cupboard, and a harpsichord.
Yet the Dutch feared that excesses of materialism might lead them astray from a righteous and godly life. One solution was to encourage consumption in moderation. That is, goods in themselves, like alcohol and tobacco, were not inherently evil, but immoderate indulgence in them might hinder an individual from fulfilling a patriotic or civic responsibility. Another solution was discretion. The Dutch enjoyed food, furnishings, and clothing in the privacy of their homes, in contrast to the more public activities of the aristocracies of other European states. Yet another means of legitimizing private wealth was the Dutch valuation of cleanliness. Keeping their persons, homes, and cities clean was a sign of moral rectitude no matter how many possessions the Dutch had. Moreover cleanliness connoted civic-mindedness for it distinguished the Dutch from less fastidious Europeans, and it was a prophylactic against disease that threatened to weaken the country.
The paintings of princes, lace and jewels of royalty, and domestic comforts of merchants are fascinating in their sumptuousness and as manifestations of culture, power, and national identity. But in the early modern era the vast majority of Europeans did not have access to such goods. Indeed the poverty and simplicity of most people's existence contrasted sharply with the wealth and opulence of a minority. Yet the material culture of ordinary persons was no less significant than that of the privileged few during this period, and certainly the changes in daily life of the majority were slower but ultimately of far greater consequence.
Housing throughout Europe from 1400 to 1800 frequently consisted of wood. Peasant dwellings were simple, sometimes constructed of earthen materials along with wood. Their function was to provide shelter for humans and animals, and they often comprised only one room. Furnishings were also simple and might include a bench, a table, possibly some bed planks and sacks of straw, and basic cooking utensils, such as a pot, a pothook, and a pan. In some urban areas stone or brick replaced wood over time as the most common element in housing construction. Floors at the ground level, especially in poor dwellings, were of earth. Various types of tile floors appeared in the fourteenth and sixteenth centuries, and by the eighteenth century parquet floors were popular among the rich. Until the sixteenth century Europeans laid straw or flowers and herbs in ground-floor rooms; eventually this was replaced with woven mats and carpets. Walls were painted or covered with tapestry, though wallpaper became common in the seventeenth century. More expensive coverings, like leather or carved wood paneling, adorned the houses of wealthy families.
The staple food of Europeans was wheat, which they consumed, along with other cereals, in bread and gruel. In addition wealthy Europeans enjoyed plentiful and various meat dishes, like roasted and boiled fowl, beef, mutton, and pork. The poor settled for vegetables and some salt meat as accompaniments to bread and, more often, gruel. Eating practices in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries were crude by modern standards. People ate off a wooden board or trencher instead of a plate. In many parts of Europe guests were expected to provide their own knives and cups or goblets. A common plate piled high with varieties of meat occupied the center of the table, and diners picked out what they desired with their fingers. Servants presented and removed dishes and filled cups with wine or water. Knives were essential eating utensils. Spoons became common in the sixteenth century, and individual forks spread slowly in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
Peasant clothing changed little from 1400 to 1800. The most common fabrics were homespun linen or wool, and shoes were often a luxury. However the clothes of the rich changed rapidly during the same period, with distinctive regional variations. Women of the Italian Renaissance wore square-necked garments with wide sleeves and elaborate hairnets and headdresses. In the sixteenth century the black clothes of the Spanish court became popular throughout Europe, succeeded by clothing in brilliant colors from the French style in the seventeenth century. Although fashion trends affected all of Europe, regional variations were rife. Linen or lace neck ruffs could be huge and elaborate or small and modest. Face paint was popular in some places and frowned upon in others. The three-piece suit for men made its appearance in seventeenth-century England as the outward sign of masculine disdain for fashion and focus on serious matters like politics.
In the seventeenth century and especially the eighteenth century material culture in Europe reflected the increased availability of goods from Asia, Africa, and the Americas. European trade with the Middle East, other southwestern portions of Asia, and northern Africa never entirely ceased after relations were established in ancient times. Europeans obtained silks, spices, and slaves from these areas throughout the late Middle Ages and early modern periods. Yet certain Renaissance princes, eager to bypass Muslim middlemen and acquire access to or a monopoly over larger quantities of highly valued goods, like spices and precious metals, subsidized sea voyages of exploration to other parts of the world. In terms of material culture, the long-term results of these voyages included the introduction of new products and larger quantities of known products and the subsequent transformation of daily European practices.
Tobacco from North America enjoyed immediate success among European men in the seventeenth century. Commentators believed that tobacco had a calming effect on the consumer while simultaneously stimulating intellectual activity. Pipe smoking was the most common form of tobacco consumption until the nineteenth century, though inhaling it into the nose in the form of snuff was also popular among certain eighteenth-century elites. Tobacco consumers acquired pipes and snuff boxes, new objects of pleasure. Additionally tobacco fostered public, largely masculine, taverns and coffeehouses, where men gathered to drink, smoke, and share news.
Coffee became an extremely popular beverage in Europe during the eighteenth century. Like tobacco coffee was initially consumed by men in public places, and coffeehouses became centers of information, business transactions, and, some governments feared, political subversion. Tea and chocolate were also drinks of choice among Europeans. Unlike coffee, they were often consumed in the home with new, largely feminine rituals, especially surrounding tea consumption. Ladies of the aristocracy and the middle classes bought pewter, silver, and porcelain tea services. A "public" ritual performed in the home, tea drinking became a social activity that ideally required comfortable and elegant tables and chairs and fashionable dress. These products and social practices have helped historians understand the meaning of material goods in the everyday lives of ordinary Europeans.
An extensive sampling and analysis of probate records in London and provincial England for the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries reveals both traditional and new patterns of domestic existence and sense of personal identity. Lorna Weatherill has maintained that the numerous cooking utensils in the homes of the comfortable classes were both traditional and reflective of the importance of food in this group's everyday life. While utensils were functional and unadorned, items for serving and eating food—dishes and cutlery—became more decorated and refined from the seventeenth to the eighteenth century. Wooden trenchers and bowls gradually were replaced by pewter dishes. Forks and knives were new in the list of personal and family possessions, as were tea services. These developments, according to Weatherill, indicated a new layout of table settings and a new habit of food consumption as a social activity. Additionally Weatherill noted an increase in mirrors in private homes, suggesting both a greater importance of the self and a desire to enhance the appearance of the home.
Similarly the diaries of Elizabeth Shackleton from 1751 to 1781 reveal a bourgeois Lancashire homemaker for whom the care and upkeep of household goods was a major source of identity and self-worth. According to the diaries Shackleton spent a considerable amount of her time ordering, mending, and maintaining household linens, clothes, dishes, and the like. She divided her domestic possessions into the categories of either "best" or "common," indicating her profound sense of distinction between private, family events, and social rituals. Although she was well aware of fashion trends and style changes in china and clothes on a national level, Shackleton was no giddy pursuer of novelty. She was a discriminating consumer who exercised a standard of tastefulness, beauty, and longevity in the items she bought. Regarding items of furniture in particular, Shackleton valued durability and recognized that quality pieces would outlast her own lifetime.
Poorer consumers also responded to the availability of new and more affordable goods, notably sugar. An expensive and highly prized item for several centuries, sugar became more widely available and cheaper in the eighteenth century with the establishment of sugar plantations in the Caribbean Islands. Owned by Europeans and worked by slave labor, these plantations produced sufficient quantities of sugar so that almost all Europeans could afford to buy some. Over the course of the nineteenth century sugar became a mainstay of working-class diets in Britain. Combined with tea, it provided a quick, cheap, warm, and psychologically satisfying food for laboring men, women, and children with little time to spend cooking or consuming a more elaborate meal. The anthropologist Sidney Mintz suggested that sugar made possible the industrial revolution in Britain because workers in factories, sweatshops, and other operations regarded tea (almost always drunk with sugar), jam, and other sweets as convenience foods and compensation for long and difficult days or nights of continuous labor.
An issue of great importance in the history of material culture and a subject of intense debate among historians has to do with changes in consumer behavior and the meaning of goods during the early modern period. Was there ever a consumer revolution, a dramatic and broad-based transformation in European attitudes toward things and in Europeans' daily practices involving material objects? If so, when did it occur, and how did it happen? Neil McKendrick and several other scholars have asserted that a consumer revolution did occur in the eighteenth century. They maintain that early industrialization was accompanied by increased domestic consumption in England. Working people acquired many possessions, like dishes, household adornments, ribbons, buckles, and trinkets, which were more affordable due to changes in production methods. Thus the laboring poor desired and enjoyed more material goods than ever before. McKendrick also discerned a revolutionary change in material culture among wealthier consumers. Enticed by innovative entrepreneurs, like the pottery maker Josiah Wedgwood, middle-class consumers wanted earthenware decorated with classical designs, which Wedgwood successfully marketed as fashionable among the elites.
By contrast, some scholars have maintained that the extravagant spending of Renaissance rulers and the somewhat more restrained acquisition of goods by wealthy commoners laid the foundation for the modern acceptance of consumerism as an integral part of daily life and personal identity. From this perspective, instead of a consumer revolution, a gradual "trickle-down effect" occurred over a few centuries. The purchasing of numerous household and personal items spread from the elite strata of society down to the less wealthy. Some research supports a bottom-up approach, indicating that working people, even the laboring poor, in early modern Europe made joint decisions at the household level about the allocation of their resources into production and consumption. Thus Jan de Vries posited "an industrious revolution" in the early modern period, referring to an increase in labor productivity stimulated by families' desires for more consumer goods. This interpretation challenges the idea of a consumer revolution because working people started to acquire more goods long before technology changed the manner of production and prices of goods. Moreover the desire for goods was internally generated at the family level and was not an imitation of elite behavior or the result of manipulative marketing.
Whether or not the increase in consumption was revolutionary or gradual and whatever the motives behind Europeans' desire for various furnishings and clothes, by the eighteenth century more goods were available and were consumed. Studies of notarial inventories of household possessions at the time of the owners' deaths in eighteenth-century Paris show a trend toward greater comfort, efficiency, and privacy in home life compared with earlier centuries. Room arrangements in apartments shifted away from a vertical organization, usually with the kitchen on the ground floor and other rooms serving multiple or separate functions in different levels above. A horizontal arrangement of rooms on one or two floors in the eighteenth century was more convenient for general movement and for hauling water and fuel to different parts of the home. Parisians at this time created more privacy in their homes with separate rooms for separate functions and the use of screens or partitions. Whereas in the early modern era a single room might serve for sociability, working, eating, and sleeping, by the eighteenth century urban dwellers were inclined to separate spatially these different activities. Lighting improved with more and better candles and lamps, clearer window glass, and less obstruction from closely packed, tall buildings. Mirrors were more common than ever before, suggesting both more sophisticated home furnishings and greater concern for personal appearance. Even the clothing of poor residents changed as the century progressed. Men had several changes of shirts and more variously colored clothes, while women added dresses, aprons, and even corsets to the standard petticoats.
The political significance of eighteenth-century consumption was apparent during the French Revolution of 1789–1799. An important contributing factor to the revolution was the inability of producers and distributors to satisfy popular demand for cheap knickknacks that imitated articles worn and used by the aristocracy, for example, stockings, umbrellas, and fans. The French Revolution eradicated the guild laws and other restrictions on production characteristic of the Old Regime.
Moreover the French Revolution imbued ordinary domestic products and clothes with political meaning. Dishes and wallpaper decorated with blue, white, and red and patriotic symbols became popular as consumers wished or felt compelled to communicate their revolutionary sympathies. Supporters of the revolution and the new republic abandoned the elaborate dress and powdered wigs of the Old Regime in favor of simpler styles of clothing and more natural hair arrangements. During this period male fashion shifted from silk knee breeches and stockings to long trousers worn with boots. Embroidered waistcoats and cutaway jackets gave way to more humble fabrics and long frock coats. Indeed English styles became the model in men's clothing, and the three-piece suit symbolized responsibility, masculinity, and the ascension of bourgeois men to political power. Dark, sober colors became popular among middle-class men in Europe in the nineteenth century. Unpowdered hair cut fairly short or arranged in falling curls hearkened back to classical antiquity. Such styles were named "à la Titus" and were worn, with some differences, by women and men alike. Women's dress also became simpler though more varied. Under the Directory (1795–1799) and during the Napoleonic era (1799–1814) fashionable women sported pale, diaphanous gowns with low necklines and high waists that revealed more natural figures than the corseted ones of the Old Regime. Eventually styles returned to a fitted look and tight-laced corsets, but the changes wrought in clothing by the French Revolution spread throughout Europe, fostered by the industrial revolution in manufacturing.
For several centuries Europeans produced and dressed in woolens, linens, and occasionally silks. Sturdy wool or hemp fabrics were the foundation of the majority of Europeans' clothes, manufactured from the local indigenous sheep or grown in fields of flax. Wealthier persons also wore silk fabrics, lace, and embroidery produced in Europe from raw materials native to Europe. Cotton textiles, however, transformed Europeans' dress and way of life. Europeans came into contact with cotton fabrics through trade with Asia. In the eighteenth century Europeans were enamored with cotton calicoes from India with their brilliant colors and intricate designs. English producers of wool and silk objected to the importation of fabrics that cut into sales of their own goods, and the government placed high tariffs and prohibitions on the calicoes. Recognizing the market for cotton textiles, ambitious craftspeople and entrepreneurs figured out a way to produce cotton textiles in England with a succession of spinning and then weaving machines. These methods of mechanical production and increased output were a significant part of the industrial revolution that started in England and spread to Europe. They also contributed to a dramatic change in the material culture of Europeans in the nineteenth century.
Plentiful and cheap cotton cloth constituted new and popular forms of clothing. Rarely worn in earlier times, underwear became a fundamental part of European dress as a result of the domestic manufacture of cotton textiles. Handkerchiefs, stockings, and other knitwear also were available to more consumers. The number of clothing items a person owned, even a relatively poor person, increased noticeably in the nineteenth century, though this trend was apparent earlier as well. Mass production methods required an agglomeration of workers, and migration from the countryside to urban areas proceeded apace. City dwellers were largely unable to produce goods for themselves, so increasing numbers of persons purchased larger proportions of household goods, clothing, and food. This demand for manufactured goods in turn fueled the quest for increased production. How did the mass-production methods of the industrial revolution affect the material existence of Europeans in the nineteenth century?
Wealthy Europeans could still obtain fine, handcrafted furnishings and tailor-made clothing throughout the nineteenth century. They might request a chest of drawers or a desk in a particular historical style, and craftspeople skilled in woodworking, veneering, design, and sculpting could produce an original and beautiful piece of furniture made out of valuable or attractive woods. Fashionable women and men also had many of their clothes custom-made, selecting a fabric and style. A dressmaker or tailor fit the garment to the customer's body and taste. Yet new items produced in new ways and ready-made goods offered a wider array of choices to consumers in the nineteenth century than in earlier times.
For example, a good bed was still constructed of wood, but box spring mattresses were an innovation in bedding brought about by more efficient methods of metal production. Beds made of metal were introduced and usually used by children, servants, the poor, or in hospitals. Knives, forks, spoons, and other tableware were fundamental items for many Europeans, but electroplating silver or gold on top of flatware made of baser metals enhanced their appearance. Rich and poor families liked to decorate their homes with art, and new alternatives were available to those who could not afford original paintings or sculptures. Print reproductions of varying quality adorned the walls of the comfortable as well as the working poor. For the middle class three-dimensional reproductive technology produced affordable versions of antique and contemporary statues and figurines.
A significant innovation of the industrial era was the manufacture of ready-made clothing. In earlier times many Europeans produced cloth and clothing for themselves and their families. An adult's worn-out jacket often provided suitable fabric for a child's trousers. Itinerant peddlers transported lengths of cloth throughout the countryside for purchase by rural inhabitants. Additionally a lively trade in old, used clothing was another source for the working poor, and employers passed on their old clothes to servants. New clothes were constructed for the most part for the wealthy, who selected fabric at a draper's shop, then proceeded to a tailor or dressmaker who fitted and stitched the garment for the individual customer. All of these methods of obtaining clothing continued into the nineteenth century, but a new method added a new array of cheap clothing choices, especially for male consumers of the working class.
In the years of economic slowdown cloth merchants could hire out-of-work clothing makers to cut simple patterns in men's trousers and jackets. The cut pieces were distributed to stitchers, usually female, who worked out of their homes. Merchants then offered for sale completed articles of clothing at low prices to working people. Gradually during the nineteenth century, with more and cheaper fabrics produced in textile factories and the patenting of the sewing machine in 1846, the ready-made process effectively produced more fitted, finer garments for sale in the department stores that appeared in France and England in the 1850s. In the nineteenth century urban dwellers in Europe had access to more goods than did their ancestors, though the middle classes were by far the greatest beneficiaries of this new abundance.
THE NINETEENTH CENTURY
Housing, the setting for these new goods, was also a significant aspect of material culture for nineteenth-century Europeans. Income from successful enterprises expanded housing options for the middle class from urban apartments above or behind shops to detached houses in the suburbs. In England the middle class invented suburbs in the early nineteenth century as a means to escape the dirt, noise, and crime of densely populated urban centers. Building houses in the countryside surrounding cities, successful middle-class families enjoyed peaceful, healthy, and comfortable surroundings while men continued to operate family businesses or to work in other positions in the city. Removed from the site of trade and manufacturing, women and children became more home-centered, and domestic decoration and upkeep and child rearing became the primary functions of middle-class wives and mothers. To be sure many middle-class women had for a long time gained a sense of identity and self-worth through housekeeping, but in the nineteenth century this function assumed a new intensity. A flood of published housekeeping manuals testifies that more women were focusing on household cares and that they felt a need for professional assistance in the appropriate means of cooking, furnishing, maintaining, decorating, and entertaining in the home. Whether they lived in urban apartments or houses in towns, suburbs, or villages, middle-class women felt compelled to maintain comfortable surroundings for their families and suitable households for their status. The housekeeping manuals kept them abreast of changing styles in home furnishings and the manners and accoutrements appropriate for sociability.
While middle-class women fretted over the upholstery fabrics of their sofas and the carpet patterns on their floors, working people experienced a different material environment. Housing for the poor was usually makeshift, cramped, and overcrowded. A few rooms for a large family and simple, sparse furniture were luxuries indeed throughout much of the nineteenth century. In the cities workingmen especially sought warmth, light, companionship, and escape from dismal, cold, and uninviting living quarters in cafés or pubs. Women socialized on the front stoops and at the public laundering sites, where they washed their families' clothes and household linens. A vibrant public or street life compensated somewhat for the inadequacies of individual housing units. Urban renewal in major cities like London, Paris, and Vienna in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries made some improvements in working-class housing by razing areas of dark and hazardous buildings and erecting apartment buildings with uniform designs, more lighting, and modern conveniences like plumbing and later electricity.
New inventions of the nineteenth century also led to new items of material culture. Photography, invented and developed in France in the 1830s and 1840s, quickly affected European lives, especially those of the middle classes. Around midcentury stereoscopic viewers—decorative holders that put photographs side by side so a viewer could see an image that approximated three dimensions or "real life"—were popular in comfortable Victorian homes. Visiting cards, made of photographic portraits reduced in size and mounted on a card, were exchanged and collected ubiquitously in both England and France. Family portraits became central items of home decoration. Picture postcards offered a means for people to communicate through the postal service that was less time consuming than writing an entire letter and that conveyed images to family and friends of, for example, a vacation site. Photography and travel increasingly were connected after the invention of small, cheap cameras at the turn of the century. Instead of relying on professional photographers, ordinary people could buy a portable camera, take pictures of scenery on holiday trips or informal snapshots of family members, and either develop the film themselves or send it to the manufacturer to be made into prints. People collected photographs in albums or put them in frames set atop a fireplace mantel or a piano. Pianos became common household furnishings in middle-class and eventually in working-class homes in the nineteenth century. Other new articles that made life easier, more pleasant, or more mobile during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries included matches, typewriters, electric lighting, telephones, gramophones, bicycles, and, for the very rich, automobiles.
Although urban populations grew steadily during the nineteenth century, the majority of Europeans still lived in the countryside, where traditional, regional objects and rituals persisted. Rural people still slept in box beds, and women wore high, starched, white lace coifs in Brittany until World War II. Farmers and agricultural workers were not likely to use many candles or oil lamps, following the pattern of working in daylight and sleeping when darkness prevailed. The mass-manufactured goods that characterized urban life arrived slowly in the countryside. Yet even in Russia, a predominantly agricultural society at the beginning of the twentieth century, material culture became more urban and modern. Elegant, fixed-price shops competed with open markets in cities, and fashionable, Western clothing replaced traditional Russian shirts and shawls.
INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS AND DOMESTIC POLITICS
Although material culture is experienced by most people in the form of everyday activities and surroundings, it is inseparable from international relations and domestic politics. In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries European imperialism affected material culture in Europe itself in ways different from foreign trade and earlier forms of colonialism. Europeans continued to enjoy tea, coffee, chocolate, and tobacco from Asia, Africa, and the Americas. Art and artifacts from these continents contributed to Europeans' sense of themselves as distinct from other cultures and in most cases superior to them. In the nineteenth century European artists integrated a flat, two-dimensional Japanese aesthetic into paintings and decorative objects. Appreciation for Chinese art and Indian design also affected European porcelain, textiles, woodworking, and other goods. Cashmere shawls, originally imported from Asia but increasingly produced in England or France, were fashionable articles of clothing for middle-class women. English women who had lived in India returned to Europe with tastes and recipes for curry dishes. Although Europeans admired arts and crafts from other parts of the world, they represented these accomplishments as something less than the products of their own culture. By the late nineteenth century museums and exhibitions displayed textiles, furnishings, and decorative objects from Asia and Africa as exotic items produced by peoples whose inferiority to Europeans was obvious in Europeans' military conquests and domination over them. Indeed, some scholars have suggested that Europeans only "knew" the peoples of Asia and Africa through the artifacts they produced. Through museums, exhibitions, mass manufacturing, and department stores, many Europeans were exposed to non-European products or motifs and purchased them for use or decoration in their homes.
Material culture involved governments in other ways as well. By the nineteenth century the era of an absolute monarch associated with a particular furnishing or clothing style was over. Nonetheless, rulers and democratic governments patronized the arts and crafts and cultivated styles and designs that might promote a popular sense of national identity and state power. Following the Great Exhibition of 1851 in London, the first international gathering of products and machines, the British were gratified that the efficiency and output of their mechanized methods of manufacturing were unsurpassed. However, the men in charge of the exhibition were dismayed at the poor design and quality of British products in comparison with those from other parts of Europe and Asia. With the proceeds of the exhibition and selected items purchased from it, they established a museum of industrial design that later became the Victoria and Albert Museum. The purpose of the museum was to inspire British producers and consumers with examples of good taste in design and style. Although limited to an elite of intellectuals and artists, the arts and crafts movement in Britain was another systematic effort to manufacture objects of beauty and utility that defied the standardization and poor quality associated with mass-production methods.
French officials felt vindicated after the Great Exhibition that French goods were more beautiful than those produced in Britain, but they also were concerned about national manufacturing. All the more reason then for subsequent French governments to seek ways to maintain a competitive advantage. The government of the Third Republic (1870–1940) promoted both an ideal standard of good taste and an artistic style of art nouveau in the interests of economic prosperity and national unity. Cultivating the tastes of middle-class women was a major component of this effort. Through a reformed public education program for girls and in support of taste professionals who wrote books and articles, the Third Republic emphasized the importance of women's role as tasteful consumers for the home. A woman's civic function, according to the schools and the manuals, was to exercise good taste in furnishing her home. Similarly women were identified as major propagators of art nouveau, a graceful and fluid artistic style reminiscent of the rococo style from the eighteenth century. The Third Republic's intention in sponsoring the international exhibitions of 1889 and 1900 was, among other things, to encourage women as producers and consumers to revitalize handicraft production in France along with a distinctive French style of art nouveau.
Several scholars have deemed western Europe in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries a mass consumer society. More goods were available to more people than ever before, and even workingpeople had choices about the appearance and style of clothes and furnishings they purchased. Advertising in the popular press, on streetcars, and through pamphlets or catalogs urged people to buy particular products at particular stores. Women, especially of the middle class, were the primary architects of material culture in the home and were thus the main target of advertising and of advice on tasteful consumption. This function had alarming effects when wives purchased more than their husbands could afford, and in England legal authorities reduced men's liability for their wives' spending, setting back women's ability to obtain credit and hence individual autonomy. Even working-class women, in certain regions and depending on local manufacturing industries, assumed responsibility for feeding and clothing their families and furnishing the home. Historians have debated, however, to what extent this was an era of mass consumption, given the limited participation of the working poor in the world of department stores, leisure travel, national identity, and as the target of advertisers.
THE TWENTIETH CENTURY
The material culture of all Europeans changed dramatically during World War I. As national resources were increasingly channeled toward the war effort, even the wealthy experienced a variety of shortages. Following two or three years of murderous fighting, governments in England, France, and Germany restricted civilian consumption of fats, textiles, meat, bread, and other essentials, and imported goods of all kinds were limited or prohibited. Even before the first year of the war ended, bread and other foodstuffs were scarce in Germany, and authorities called on women in particular to exercise restraint in consumption. Although many Europeans made do with coarse-grained bread, margarine, and other food substitutes, frustration and discontent exploded in Berlin in October 1915, when women demonstrated against the high prices merchants charged for butter. As a result the government attempted to impose systematic rationing of goods in acknowledgment of consumers' legitimate concerns about the capacity of the regime to provide for its citizens during wartime. Germany's failure to effectively address the shortages was a significant part of its failure to prosecute the war itself. By contrast, Britons as a whole actually ate better in spite of wartime rationing and prohibitions.
Shortages of textiles and the new tasks women performed during the war in industry, agriculture, and the service sector led to long-term changes in feminine apparel. Even after the war ended more practical clothing remained, leaving behind the prewar long skirts, elaborate bustles, and extravagant hats. Women's dress in the 1920s and 1930s was less fitted and confining and increasingly presented a vertical, androgynous silhouette. Daring, fashion-conscious women wore their hair bobbed, contributing further to the boyish look. Short hemlines, slim styling, and small cloches allowed women greater freedom of movement.
After the war the promotion of electric household appliances altered material culture in Europe. Electric irons, sewing machines, and vacuum cleaners were available for household consumption before the war, and clothes washers and water heaters appeared in the 1930s. Such appliances were touted as laborsaving devices, compensating middle-class women for the loss of servants at the war's end and promising modernity to households equipped with the latest appliances. However, research on both France and Britain reveals that diffusion of these machines was slow, taking decades to reach even half of British households. In addition to income and price, gender and leisure significantly affected who bought which appliances for what purpose. By and large families chose leisure products over those that would relieve women of some household labor. Working-class British households were more likely to have better interior electric lighting and radios than electric cookers in the interwar years. The main reasons were economic. The cost of appliances, their installation, and their operation was more than most working-class families could afford. Consumers spent more on household furnishings, including bed and bath linens, curtains, cooking utensils, and dishes, and on clothing than on appliances, to say nothing of expenditures on food and leisure activities, including travel by train or motor vehicle, pubs, and movies. Producers of electricity and electrical appliances appealed to middle-class women to improve the cleanliness of their homes with these products. Although middle-class families were more likely than working-class families to own electric appliances, these devices actually confined women to the home more by raising standards of cleanliness. If appliances did not confine middle-class women, then working-class women who worked part-time for the middle class used the appliances in another person's home.
While electrical appliances and various forms of leisure and entertainment slowly permeated western Europe in the 1920s and 1930s, the inhabitants of the new Soviet Union experienced a drastic change in material life with the transition to a state-controlled economy in the 1930s. Severe shortages and deprivation were the common characteristics of the Stalinist experiment. Famine in the countryside in 1932 and 1933 along with collectivization forced millions of rural inhabitants to migrate to the cities, where they found little food and housing. Bread was scarce and adulterated, and people waited in line for hours at bakeshops, sometimes returning home with nothing. Bread and other hard-to-obtain necessities, including meat, milk, butter, vegetables, salt, soap, kerosene, and matches, were referred to as "deficit goods." As the government concentrated most of its resources in capital goods production, clothes were hard to come by, and shoes were sometimes unobtainable. Even persons with the skills to make and repair clothes and utensils could not ease the situation because thread, needles, and buttons were scarce and the state prohibited the private consumption of paint, nails, boards, or other raw materials. State ownership of housing meant the conversion of old buildings into communal apartments and the construction of barracks in new, industrial outposts. A typical communal apartment consisted of one room for an entire family with sheets or curtains dividing the space in which several people lived. Running water was not available, food was stored in sacks hung out the window, and building residents shared sinks, toilets, washtubs, and cooking facilities. Although more goods became available after rationing ended in 1935, the practice of urban foraging never really ceased, and severe housing shortages persisted until the 1950s.
Shortages caused by war and the policies of totalitarian states fluctuated or contrasted with steady, sometimes astonishing, growth in the production and consumption of goods in Europe. In the two decades following World War II unprecedented economic growth and welfare states led to extraordinarily high levels of material satisfaction if not abundance. Refrigerators, washing machines, telephones, television sets, and cars became common possessions for all Europeans, even urban workers and rural farmers. People spent less of their incomes on food and housing and more on luxuries and leisure. Although the vast majority of Europeans gained access to the same objects of material culture, differences persisted in terms of style and quality and the meanings of objects for different social groups and individuals. The construction of diverse personal and group identities through the objects of everyday life requires more investigation. Scholars have begun to write the history of material culture in twentieth-century Europe and to examine the effects of wars, revolutions, changing capitalist and socialist economies, new media, and state policies on material culture.
See also other articles in this section.
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"Material Culture." Encyclopedia of European Social History. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 10, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/international/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/material-culture
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