Material Culturists are Awesome

Sometimes I look back at my life and wonder how I took this particular path and not another one that I would have also (probably) enjoyed. These bouts of introspection are usually caused by running across people who are passionate about something and are getting paid for that passion. If they’re having that much fun doing something, maybe I made the wrong choice by taking a different route? Case in point: material culture.

From Wikipedia:”Material culture is the physical aspect of culture in the objects and architecture that surround people. It includes usage, consumption, creation and trade of objects, and the behaviors, norms and rituals these objects create or take part in. The term is commonly used in archaeological and anthropological studies, specifically focusing on the material evidence which can be attributed to culture, in the past or present. Material culture studies is an interdisciplinary field telling of relationships between people and their things: the making, history, preservation, and interpretation of objects.”

More recently, I was watching a video from George Washington’s Mount Vernon Youtube page where they were talking about recent work undertaken to restore the Blue Room, which had served as a guest room for the Washingtons. The video is embedded below, but while watching it, note how the restoration drew on knowledge of history (records of its description), textiles (period appropriate wallpaper and fabrics), carpentry (for the mantelpiece), architecture (the windows), art history, and probably some anthropology to think about how the room was used and how its contents would have been placed for optimal flow.

Besides needing a sense for all of these other areas of study besides just history, these people get to spend time in Mount Vernon. Lucky ducks. I hope they were able to take a few quiet moments to themselves and commune with Washington’s spirit while watching the Potomac. If you, Dear Reader(s), get the same opportunity, I would suggest you take it.



As an added bonus, there was another video about how additional research makes historians think the wood in Mount Vernon’s foyer was actually painted a light tan color instead of remaining exposed and finished hardwood. It is certainly an interesting interior decorating choice. I’ve been through the house with the exposed wood. I wonder how the paint will change the atmosphere. I also wonder if additional research will make the curators change their mind and opt back for the wood, and I wonder how many times the wood itself can get finished/stripped/finished again before it will need to be replaced.



Anyway, these are the kinds of questions that keep me up at night. Plus the FOMO from handling historical artifacts and/or spending quality time at Mount Vernon. I’m not certain I would have made a good material culturist, but it’s videos like these that make me wish I had tried. C’est la vie, I suppose.





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