History 235 Professor Emma Lapsansky (Spring, 1996)

Material Culture and Colonial America

This course will use architecture, as well as fine and folk arts and crafts to investigate the public and private ideals and realities of community life in pre-Revolutionary America. From kitchen to tavern to farmyard, church, school and courthouse, we will explore education, religion, gender, politics, race and class relations, economic patterns and contemporary fads as they influenced and reflected the material goods produced and/or consumed by colonial Americans.

Assignments and Grading:

There is only one book to be bought, Robert Blair St. George, Material Life in America, 1600-1860. (referred to below as "SG") Other readings will be found on reserve, or will be located through your own searches.

Grading will be based upon a team oral project (20%), which is the prelude to an individual essay project (40%). The remainder of the grade will be based upon the student's choice of a midterm exam and/or a final exam, (each worth 30%), and on class participation (10%).


The assigned readings, which have been kept intentionally short, to allow for full digestion of the authors' ideas as well as discussion of the related ideas that emerge as you read, will be due for discussion at the Thursday class of each week.

Though the course materials will be organized thematically, rather than chronologically, you will need to pay close attention to changes over time: this is, after all, a history course. The weekly themes are noted next to dates below:

Week of:

January 23 The tools and concept of material evidence

Reading: SG, pp. 3-38

January 30 Stories we tell ourselves about who we are:"things" and cultural myths

Reading: SG, pp. 63-94

February 6 Traded Cultures I: Europeans and Native American Indians

Reading: SG, pp. 95-112

February 13 Traded Cultures II: Europeans and Africans

Reading: SG, pp. 171-184

February 20 Profit and Economy I: The Agricultural Chesapeake

Reading: SG, pp. 185-202.

STUDENT REPORT DUE: James Deetz, Flowerdew Hundred: The Archaeology of a Virginia Plantation, 1619-1864.

February 27 Profit and Economy II: An Urban Working Class

Reading: SG, pp. 233-260.

***Midterm exam will be distributed, a self-administered, two hour exam.

March 5 Special Groups, Specialized Stories I: Women and Property

Reading: SG, pp. 291-310


March 19 Special Groups, Specialized Stories II: The "Suburban" Manor

-"Material Culture and American History: The View from the Historic House-Museum"

Visiting Lecturer: Sandra Lloyd, Director of Education, Cliveden National Historic Site

March 26 Special Groups, Specialized Stories III: White and Black, Work and Culture

Reading: SG, pp. 203-232; 357-370

April 2 Changes in the Land I: Ecology and Invasion

STUDENT REPORT DUE: William Cronon, Changes in the Land.: Indians, Colonists, and the Ecology of New England.

April 9 Changes in the Land II: Taming the Landscape

"Colonial Gardens: A Flavor of Material Culture"

Visiting Lecturer: Elizabeth McLean, Historian of Historic Gardens

April 16 Ritual and Authority: Meetinghouse, Courthouse

Reading: SG, pp. 407-438

April 23 Special Groups, Specialized Stories III: Children in the House

STUDENT REPORT DUE: Karin Calvert, Children in the House: The Material Culture of Early Childhood, 1600-1900.

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