10 Definition Essay Topics on Material Culture

Topics and ideas
Posted on July 21, 2016

If you’re looking for facts for your definitional essay, you can take some notes from this guide. Material culture is the study and research of cultures and history through the properties of objects found from digging sites. There are various schools of thoughts on how to go about accumulating and assessing the data acquired by objects, and you have a plethora of options to choose your essay’s topic from.

Here are 10 facts on material culture for a definition essay:

  1. Origination of material culture as a study as a specialized discipline goes all the way back to the 1990s. The progress however was slow as it took the Journal of Material Culture another six years to begin distribution. Before Material Culture, the Collecting Habits Culture existed hundreds of years ago, and even before that, the ethnographic work was very popular in this area.
  2. Material Culture was used to portray the systematic evolution of society during the famous, “Golden Age” of museums. The museums used this technique to demonstrate objects of non-westerns all the way to the advanced European objects. This technique was used to portray the common knowledge that the Europeans represented the end of society’s evolution and non-westerners represented the beginning. This understanding didn’t survive for long as scholars declared that it was insufficient. Later, the belief was that Material Culture didn’t evolve the society by predictable cycles. Non-western Material Culture was also looked at more objectively.
  3. During the early times of its establishment as a discipline, Material Culture had a very narrow school of thought and focus area. In the beginning, it existed within the domain of anthropology and relied on it to express, catalogue and inventory the diverse cultures. The very first Material Culture studies created an inventory of objects while defining it, these objects were mostly from non-western or from Non-European origins. Most of these objects belonged to the military faction, like the spear, knife and shields.
  4. Although the purpose of Material Culture was to use the artifacts to collect retrospective research through examining the human behavior and culture, the real prime purpose was to objectify, create hierarchy and scrutinize the cultural signatures of non-western cultures. The Zenith period of museum collecting, which is more commonly known as Museum Age dated between 1880-1920, helped demonstrate a biased form of education as it portrayed the only progress of evolution and cultural development from the perspective of western culture.
  5. At the beginning of 20th century, Franz Boas introduced a unique technique of reordering Material Culture that rightly captured both the audience’s attention and increased their education. This technique, called the ‘Life Group Arrangement’, helped recreate visual presentation of various aspects of social lives of different cultures. These spectacles made sure that the mannequins were dressed accordingly and were shown doing some day to day work, portraying a certain social context.
  6. Pitt Rivers, the famous ethnologist and archaeologist who is known for his contributions in innovations in archaeological methodology and in the field of Material Culture used his overseas military career to gather a vast variety of artifacts. This constantly improving collection caught the eyes of various academic ethnographers and museums, ultimately around 1884 the collection was added into a newly developed area in the Oxford University Museum. River’s findings helped establish a general consensus in the Material Culture researchers of the time that all mankind can be traced back to a singular moment. It further helped extrapolate that mankind’s history can be reconstructed and the findings can help differentiate racial significance and interconnection.
  7. Until the 60s and 70s, there was no specific interest in a sub-discipline of multicultural as the field of study was dominated by the presence of archeologists who were primarily interested in the study of history through materials and items dug up from sites. During that time museum scholars and practitioners documented these artifacts and items, and exhibited them accordingly. A lot of contemporary Material Culture developments that are being achieved in today’s time are possible due to the notes made by researchers like Susan M. Pearce.
  8. One of the many characteristics that define the contemporary historical research which is known as Material Culture is the interdisciplinary and cross-disciplinary focus. Interdisciplinary is the study where various disciplines of Multi Culture are used such as sociology, psychology, anthropology and history. No particular discipline is kept above another and all of them are used to provide one single analysis. This exception is important in the Interdisciplinary studies because an object doesn’t have a singular interpretation as they have multiple meanings.
  9. Material Culture proves that objects do portray culture and society and social analysis should be performed under the discipline of Material Culture so that a refined view of cultures can be established. The process can take a long time because studying the elements of material culture requires careful attention to space, emotions and the body of people and objects. Contemporary researchers have decided to re-materialize social theory to further attune people-to-object relationship.
  10. Among the various sociologists who researched the earliest forms of modernity and capitalism, Georg Simmel was the most significant sociologist who deduced that Material Culture was important to define the nature of modern experience. Mr. Simmel brought forth the notion that modern economy accelerated the number of objects. He claimed that there were a lot of cultural and experiential implications attached to this hypothesis. The accelerated amount of items released a variety of living styles and opportunities for individuals to create their individual persona.

Material Culture studies are primarily opinion and hypothesis based as it’s a study to predict the past through elements of research taken from objects and we urge you to go beyond the research and speculate your own thoughts into the research. Bring something new to the table and make a name for yourself. We are here to help and we suggest you to read our next piece 20 definition essay topics on material culture as well as our specific guide on the matter.

Berger, A. A. (2009). What objects mean: An introduction to material culture. Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press.
Boivin, N. (2008). Material Cultures, Material Minds: The Impact Of Material World On Human Thoughts, Society, And Evolution. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press.
Clunas, C. (2004). Material culture and social status in early modern China. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press.
Miller, D. (1998). Material Cultures: Why Some Things Matter. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Hicks, D., & Beaudry, M. C. (2010). The Oxford handbook of material culture studies. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Kirkham, P., & Weber, S. (n.d.). History of Design: Decorative Arts And Material Culture, 1400-2000.
Miller, D. (1987). Material Culture and Mass Consumption. Oxford, OX, UK: B. Blackwell.

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