“So, what is material culture anyway?” This is a question I often hear. It’s not about the monetary value alone, but the historical, aesthetic, and cultural values and technological and social meanings of an artifact that constitute the field of material culture studies.
The websites below are useful for thinking about things and learning about the unruly field of American material culture studies. I’ve also included links to online collections of specific types of material culture. These are meant as introductions, not full treatments.
The one thing material culture studies once promised was an expansive view of the material world, but many in the field are not generalists, but specialists in one type or a few categories of objects. For a very large bibliography of American material culture studies, see this expanded list created for American Material Culture: Understanding Everyday Life (2008) by Helen Sheumaker and me.
American Material Culture Studies Bibliography (last updated 2008; 88 pages and counting; opens in new window)
Academic Centers and Programs, United States
Bard Graduate Center: Decorative Arts, Design History, and Material Culture
Center for Material Culture Studies, University of Delaware
Material Culture Program, University of Wisconsin
Winterthur Program in American Material Culture, University of Delaware
Online Collections, Exhibitions, and Resources
Advertising and Advertisements
John W. Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising & Marketing History (for online images see Ad*Access)
Architecture, Interior Design, Built Environment, Landscape
Built in America: The Historic American Buildings Survey/Historic American Engineering Record/Historic American Landscape Survey, Library of Congress
Architecture and Interior Design for 20th Century America: Photographs by Samuel Gottscho and William Schleisner, 1935-1955, Library of Congress
Digital Library for the Decorative Arts and Material Culture: Image and Text Collections, University of Wisconsin
Farber Collection, American Antiquarian Society
Map Collections, Library of Congress
Perry-Castaneda Library Map Collection, University of Texas, Austin
Early American Paintings, Worcester Art Museum
Prints, Posters, and Ephemera
An American Time Capsule: Three Centuries of Broadsides and Other Printed Ephemera, Library of Congress
By the People, For the People: Posters from the WPA, 1935-1943, Library of Congress
The Picture Collection Online, New York Public Library