How has our study of artifacts altered our perception of American history?"" The bland question taken up at the 1975...



How has our study of artifacts altered our perception of American history?"" The bland question taken up at the 1975 Winterthur Conference turns out, fruitfully, to have a different meaning for each respondent--and more intellectual freight than the sizing up of potsherds would suggest. To the use traditional historians have made of ""three-dimensional experience,"" Brooke Hindle--and after him, Cary Carson--adds the importance of artifacts for the New Historians whose computer-study of local records has revealed that ""regional and interregional economies had a basis in household economy."" ""Artifacts are not just evidence,"" Carson concludes after investigating why termites ate up nearly all 17th-century wooden houses in Maryland and Virginia, but not those built a few decades later; they are ""sources of ideas."" In a narrower, but still provocative, vein, Noel Hume airs the contention between ""big-picture"" historians and omnium-gatherum anthropologists at Williamsburg; Charles B. Hosmer reviews the four stages (shrine, ancestral homestead, reconstructed village, total environment) of the historical preservation movement; and, expanding outward, Neil Harris explores the parallels between department stores, expositions, and museums as molders of public taste--finding a postwar shift in initiative to the hip, nostalgia-laden marketplace-museum. Relevant exhibitions (""a distinct and complex art form"") are evaluated by Harold K. Skramstad, Jr.; James C. Curtis gives poor grades to most historical documentary films; and Arlene M. Palmer speaks up for the ""curatorial responsibilities of authentication and evaluation."" Plus, putting precept into practice, Bernard L. Fontana's study of ""the effect of the non-Indian presence"" on Southwest Indian architecture, painting, basketry, ceramics--this last, like many of the others, with a valuable complement of bibliographic footnotes. But the best endorsement of the material-culture approach--and, fortuitously, of this book--is the review below of a work cited by Hindle as under way, Anthony Wallace's idea-fraught Rockdale.

Pub Date: April 24, 1978


Page Count: -

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 1978