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Many may be unaware that the objects surrounding us can inform us about ourselves and our culture. In fact, studying items from a particular culture and time can help us understand that part of history.
The practice just mentioned is the study of material culture, that is, the study of an object’s significance in a specific space and time. Through reading Kenneth Haltman’s American Artifacts: Essays in Material Culture and Sophie Woodward’s Material Culture, I gained insightful knowledge on material culture. However, both pieces offered different information regarding the subject.
The fundamental difference between Haltman and Woodward is that Haltman not only explains what material culture is, but he informs his readers on how to go about the study of material culture through Prownian analysis. Woodward also explains the study of material culture, but she does not inform readers on how to successfully study material culture.
This distinction is key– for the lack of guidance in Woodward’s piece leaves her audience questioning whether or not they could study material culture too. Haltman gives a schematic method to approaching an object one would like to study through the steps of Prownian analysis: description, deduction, speculation, research, and interpretive analysis. (Haltman 8) He also gives informative and highly useful advice on how to successfully move through each step of the Prownian analysis and ultimately come to an accurate interpretation of an object’s cultural significance.
The thread that ties these two articles together is concept of objectification, which is center to the study of material culture, through which Woodward describes the relationship between objects and people as intertwined and dialectic. (Woodward para. 1)
This description falls in line with Haltman’s assertion that the objects at question have an influential role in people’s lives. (Haltman 6) This dialog between person and object is what the study of material culture aims to understand and interpret.
In conclusion, annotating both these pieces individually and in unison allowed me to gain a much deeper understand of material culture and descriptive writing. By reading both pieces, I understood both the historical background of the study of material culture, as well as how to go about studying material culture effectively. Ultimately, the information that I gained from these two pieces will help me write my Primary Source Description of the Aids Memorial Quilt as thoroughly and successfully as possible.
Haltman, Kenneth. American Artifacts: Essays in Material Culture. Michigan State University Press-East Lansing. September 20, 2000. Date Accessed: January 31, 2018.
Woodward, Sophie. Material Culture. Oxford Bibliographies. May 28, 2013. Date Accessed: January 31, 2018.