MATERIAL CULTURE AND THE STUDY OF AMERICAN LIFE by Ian M. G.--Ed. Quimby

MATERIAL CULTURE AND THE STUDY OF AMERICAN LIFE

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KIRKUS REVIEW

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 24th, 1978
Publisher: Norton