Writing a definition essay is challenging only if you think it is. The truth is that with the information we have provided in 10 facts on material culture for a definition essay, you have plenty of topics to write on. However, if you are in a hurry to write the essay and want to pick out a topic right away, we understand perfectly and this is exactly why we are presenting you with 20 topics which you can use to kick-start your essay.
Here are 20 topics on Material Culture which you can choose from:
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Material culture is a study which grew along with anthropology. It explains the relationship between people and objects. Scientists who study this field focus on the making, history and conservation of these objects. Material cultural studies take their theories from social sciences, anthropology, folklore, historic preservation and other fields. Objects like books, jewelry and even toothbrushes are added into the study of material culture.
Because it’s beginning was with anthropology, it began with the study of objects used by non-westerners. Studying these objects helped people marginalize and characterize the cultures which they came out of. However, though the origins of material culture can be dated back to 1990’s, it was not until 1996 that it was fully recognized, when The Journal of Material had started publishing.
As time passed, the purpose of material culture became to show the society how things evolve. During the “golden age” of museums, objects were portrayed in such a fashion that you started from simpler objects from non-westerns and ended at advanced objects which belonged to the Europeans. Though this was also a way to show that the Europeans were at the end of evolution, scholars theorized that culture doesn’t evolve through predictable cycles and so the views changed to have a more objective view of non-western culture.
However, though the study of material culture has evolved leaps and bounds today, it is thought that collecting habits and ethnographic work was the actual origin of things. Over the years, people like Leslie White, James Deetz, Ian M. G. Quimby and Gred Koch contributed to the field of material culture.
Today’s material culture deals with archaeology, art conservation, anthropology and heritage. This is why you will find plenty of material culture studies which deal with the understanding of daily lives of the people in olden cultures and what we can learn from them. The artifacts which are collected during the exploration are used to make inferences about the culture and history. Though no written record was present for objects found from very early cultures, oral traditions and written work can be found for recent societies.
Because material culture is also closely related to anthropology, anthropologist who study material culture also look into the interactions that people of that culture had with each other and with those outside. The responsibility of the anthropologist is to look closely at the object, the why and how it was made and then understand the culture where it was presented.
During the mid-nineteenth century, Lewis Henry Morgan took interest in studying material culture and is well known for studying the effects of technology on society and its evolution. Later on, scientists such as Franz Boas took the field in further deep and explained why it was important to not only look at the object but know about its context as well. In the twentieth century, Claude Levi-Strauss included material culture in his anthropological work and claimed that these findings can also be used to understand the mindset of people during those times.
Finally, Marvin Harris presented the theory of cultural materialism which claimed that every aspect of a certain society has material motives or causes.
Woodward, Ian (2007). Understanding Material Culture. New York, New York: SAGE Publications Ltd.
Woodward, Sophie. “Material Culture”. Oxford. Retrieved 4 December 2013.
Koch, Gerd (1961). Die Materielle Kulture der Ellice-Inseln. Berlin: Museum fur Volkerkunde (Ethnological Museum of Berlin); The English translation by Guy Slatter, was published as The Material Culture of Tuvalu, University of the South Pacific in Suva (1981).
Koch, Gerd (1986). Materielle Kultur der Gilbert-Inseln. Berlin: Museum fur Volkerkunde (Ethnological Museum of Berlin), The English translation by Guy Slatter, was published as The Material Culture of Kiribati, University of the South Pacific in Suva (1986).
Morgan, Lewis Henry (1877). Ancient Society.
Boas, Franz (1896). The Limitations of the Comparative Method of Anthropology.
Levi-Strauss, Claude (1961). Structural Anthropology.
Berger, Arthur Asa (2009). What Objects Mean: An Introduction of Material Culture. Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press Inc. p. 93.
Harris, Marvin (1979). Cultural Materialism.
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