This assignment has multiple steps.
Look at the 1 to 5 attached images of the objects below, then write some initial impressions of the object.
- What does it look like – defining features, colors, shape?
- What might it have been used for? (Please don’t peek at the web pages! I want to hear your initial guesses first.)
Next, read and analyze the object descriptions on the corresponding links of web pages below.
After reading the descriptions, download from the attachments Material Culture and History 20 Questions worksheet and answer all 20 questions for one of the objects. Keep those 20 questions in mind, and use them to help shape your answers for the other objects in Step 3.
Lastly, answer these questions:
- How might you use these objects to explain the longevity of this civilization?
- How can these objects help us understand the long-term influence of this civilization – over the course of the middle ages and early modern period, but also its relevance in present-day society?
- How might these objects help us understand social, economic, or climatological/geographical challenges faced by this civilization? Can they help us understand not only while this civilization endured, but why it eventually collapsed?
Your response should be no less than 750 words in length and should reference specific examples from this exercise and your other reading materials.
Material Culture and History
In the questions below, there are two main entities at play, the object and the inspector (you). The initial questions guide close scrutiny of the object. Try to answer them through inspection only. Resist the temptation to quickly identify and categorize the object, and to make assumptions about its purpose or meaning. As you make inferences about the object, consider the kinds of cultural knowledge that you base them on. As the questions begin to address the object in larger contexts, answering them will most likely require other modes of inquiry alongside inspection.
1) What are the object’s sensory properties?
a. Sight: Line and shape (two-dimensional), form (three-dimensional), color (hue, light, dark), texture (reflective, matte)
b. Touch: Form and shape (round, angular), texture (smooth, rough), temperature (cold, warm), density (hard, soft)
c. Sound: Consider what sounds the object makes when manipulated
2) What are the object’s physical properties?
a. Materials (wood, stone, plastic; note that identifying materials may not be possible through inspection alone)
b. Size (length, width, depth, volume)
d. Number of parts and how they are organized (symmetrical, asymmetrical, distinct, merged)
e. Inscriptions (printed, stamped, engraved)
3) Does the object appear to be human made?
a. If it is human made, does it show evidence of natural processes? (oxidation, decay)
b. If not human made, does it show evidence of human intervention? (modification, wear)
4) How does the object interact with human bodies?
a. Other species?
5) How is the object oriented?
b. Does it have a presumed front, back, bottom, or top?
c. Does it have open and closed parts? If, for example, it appears to have a “handle” or a “lid,” how do you know?
6) What is the object’s purpose?
7) Does the object prompt some kind of action or performance?
8) What is your emotional response to the object?
a. What might it evoke for others?
9) How was the object produced?
b. Social structures
10) Who made the object, and under what circumstances?
a. Was it made by one or more individuals?
b. Was the maker also the designer?
c. When was it made?
d. Where was it made?
11) What is the object’s history?
a. Who owned and/or used it?
12) Is the object part of a group of objects? If so, how?
a. Is it part of a genre? If so, what features does it share with other objects of its genre?
b. What is its spatial relationship to other objects?
c. Does it have a metaphorical relationship to other objects? If so, how?
d. Is it part of a collection, whether personal or institutional?
13) How does, or did, possession of the object relate to individual and/or group identity
(e.g., class, race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, nation, religion)?
14) Does the object relate to a set (or sets) of beliefs (e.g., spiritual, ideological)? If so, how?
15) Is the object part of a system (or systems) of exchange (e.g., commodity, gift)? If so, how?
16) What is its value (e.g., economic, cultural) and how might you locate it within systems of value?
17) Does the object reflect and/or structure human agency? If so, how?
18) What is the object’s contemporary context and relevance?
19) What is special or distinctive about the object?
20) How would you interpret it to others?
From “Twenty Years, Twenty Questions to Ask an Object” workshop: