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Material Culture - Objects Title

Author Daniel Waugh

Institutional Affiliation University of Washington

This essay explores ways to use material objects in the study of history. “Material objects” include items with physical substance. They are primarily shaped or produced by human action, Image of Cointhough objects created by nature can also play an important role in the history of human societies. For example, a coin is the product of human action. An animal horn is not, but it takes on meaning for humans if used as a drinking cup or a decorative or ritual object. Historical sources analyzed as text or images—for example, a legal charter on a piece of parchment or a religious painting—are also material objects, perhaps significant symbolically. The physical existence of a religious image in a dark cave as a “work of art” provides evidence of the piety of an artist or a sponsor. In some societies, before widespread literacy, the content of a legal document may have been less important than its existence as visible “proof” of a claim.

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