History and Material Culture : A Student's Guide to Approaching Alternative Sources book cover
2nd Edition

History and Material Culture
A Student's Guide to Approaching Alternative Sources

Edited By

Karen Harvey

ISBN 9781138928671
Published September 18, 2017 by Routledge
278 Pages

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Book Description

Sources are the raw material of History, but whereas the written word has traditionally been seen as the principal source, historians now recognize the value of sources beyond text. In this new edition of History and Material Culture, contributors consider a range of objects – from an eighteenth-century bed curtain to a twenty-first-century shopping trolley – which can help historians develop new interpretations and new knowledge about the past.

Containing two new chapters on healing objects in East Africa and the shopping trolley in the social world, this book examines a variety of material sources from around the globe and across centuries to assess how such sources can be used to study the distant and the recent past. In a revised introduction, Karen Harvey discusses some of the principal issues raised when historians use material culture, particularly in the context of 'the material turn', and suggests some initial steps for those unfamiliar with these kinds of sources. While the sources are discussed from interdisciplinary perspectives, the emphasis of the book is on what historians stand to gain from using material culture, as well as what historians have to offer the broader study of material culture.

Clearly written and accessible, this book is the ideal introduction to the opportunities and challenges of researching material culture, and is essential reading for all students of historical theory and method.

Table of Contents

List of illustrations

List of contributors


Introduction: Historians, material culture and materiality

Karen Harvey

1 – Things that shape history: material culture and historical narratives

Giorgio Riello

2 – Ornament as evidence

Andrew Morrall

3 – Back yards and beyond: landscapes and history

Marina Moskowitz

4 – Draping the body and dressing the home: the material culture of textiles and clothes in the Atlantic world, c. 1500-1800

Beverly Lemire

5 – Using buildings to understand social history: Britain and Ireland in the seventeenth century

Anne Laurence

6 – Pushed around: material culture, dispossession, and the American shopping cart

Catherine Gudis

7 – Repurposed objects and performance: ritual acts of healing in East Africa

Jonathan Walz

8 – Object biographies: from production to consumption

Karin Dannehl

9 – Regional identity and material culture

Helen Berry

10 – Objects and agency: material culture and modernity in China

Frank Dikötter

11 – Mundane materiality, or, should small things still be forgotten? Material culture, micro-histories and the problem of scale

Sara Pennell

12 – The case of the missing footstool: reading the absent object

Glenn Adamson



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Karen Harvey is a Professor of History at the University of Birmingham. Her publications include Reading Sex in the Eighteenth Century: Bodies and Gender in English Erotic Culture (2004), The Kiss in History (2005) and The Little Republic: Masculinity and Domesticity in Eighteenth-Century Britain (2012).