Matt Hobbs – Reid & Crowley’s “Style and Socialism: Modernity and Material Culture in Post-War Eastern Europe”

Susan Reid and David Crowley’s Style and Socialism: Modernity and Material Culture in Post-War Eastern Europe

The study of material culture is a subset of the wider field of cultural history. While a cultural historian will “read” the texts of various events, places, and subjects such as fairs and expositions, r the development of specific themes within a culture’s art, the material culture historian will look at the physical aspects of these same things. To continue the examples used, the material culture historian may be more interested in the commemorative trinkets produced for the exposition than in attendance or specific exhibits, or the actual physical production, exhibition, and/or sale (consumption) of art of a specific genre within a culture. It is important to remember that historians in this field are not antiquarians or appraisers. There interest in the physical ephemera of past times is important only because it tells us about the people of that time, not the physical items themselves. Style and Socialism is a collection of essays from historians of Eastern Europe who specialize in material culture, and what it can say about the societies of the Soviet bloc during the 1950s and 1960s.

After a rather jargon-laden introductory chapter, the reader knows that the authors of the book seek to understand “the ways in which the material world was shaped in the Eastern bloc during the consolidation of socialism in the 1950s and 1960s” (18.) The essays within the book examine topics as diverse as hippie counter-culture in Latvia, the use of plastics to define modernity in East Germany, the struggle of the state against Muslim women wearing veils n Bulgaria, and private housing ownership in a small Hungarian mining town. Fashion, architecture, and modern art are all studied to show how consumer culture developed and (to some extent) managed to thrive during the Thaw of Kruschev’s time in the Kremlin. The field is still a relatively new one, especially in relation to Cold War Eastern Europe. The authors contribute uniformly cogent and thoughtful analyses of their chosen example of consumption and material culture, and add a valuable human face to the complex political history of the Soviet satellite states.

One Response to “Matt Hobbs – Reid & Crowley’s “Style and Socialism: Modernity and Material Culture in Post-War Eastern Europe””

  1. ammon says:

    Thanks for the good explanation of material culture historians and cultural historians. There’s so many different aspects of history to study we should form a specialization that studies the history profession’s specializations.