Material Culture in America: Understanding Everyday Life

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The first encyclopedia to look at the study of material culture (objects, images, spaces technology, production, and consumption), and what it reveals about historical and contemporary life in the United States.

* Nearly 200 entries tracing the history, production, consumption, and reception of various types of goods and exploring the uses and meanings of artifacts within changing social, cultural, economic, and political contexts

* A detailed introductory essay unites each entry with a common thread

* Contributions from over 50 scholars, curators, and teachers working in the field of material culture studies today, representing cutting-edge scholarship in museums and historical societies, universities and colleges

* Illustrations include advertisements, such as a 19th-century trade card and a Singer sewing machine ad, plus photographs of a 1949 "Torpedo pedal car" and a life-size modernist-style streamlined locomotive prototype by Raymond Loewy

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About the author

Helen Sheumaker, PhD, is associate professor of American studies and coordinator of museum education at the William Holmes McGuffey Museum at Miami University, Oxford, OH.

Shirley Teresa Wajda, PhD, teaches in the Department of History at Kent State University, Kent, OH. She is also coordinator of the American studies program.

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Additional Information

Publisher
ABC-CLIO
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Published on
Dec 31, 2008
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Pages
569
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ISBN
9781576076477
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Best For
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Language
English
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Genres
Social Science / Popular Culture
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Eligible for Family Library

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In the largely forgotten craft of hairwork, practiced widely in nineteenth-century America, the hair of loved ones—living and deceased—was woven into jewelry, wall decorations, and keepsakes. Rings, bracelets, lockets, and brooches were set with metalwork or ivory and painted with rich patterns. Pocket watches hung from long, woven hair fobs. Parlor walls were decorated with elaborate wreaths made of hair fashioned into twigs and flowers, often adorned with beads or ribbons. More unusual items even included a tea set made entirely out of hair. Victorian men and women treasured hairwork not only as remembrances of loved ones and memorials of relationships but also as objects of beauty and means of personal expression.

Beginning as a trade of highly skilled craftsmen in the late eighteenth century, hairwork became tremendously popular among the middle class, and supported at its peak in the mid-nineteenth century an industry that included catalog dealers of premade pieces, standardized patterns, and how-to books for hobbyists. Advertisements, stories, and illustrations in popular publications depicted hairwork as the height of sentimental fashion.

Using a wide array of evidence drawn from poetry, fiction, diaries, letters, and, above all, examples of hairwork, Love Entwined traces the widespread and long-lived popularity of the craft and its place in the American marketplace. During a period that saw a growing mechanization of production methods, hairwork stood apart not only for being made by hand but also for using a part of the body as a material. Helen Sheumaker argues that this refiguration of a loved one's hair into a commodity created a unique meeting point between sentimentality and consumerism, intensifying the close relationship between the goods one purchased and the kind of person one wished to be.
Objects of everyday life tell stories about the ways everyday Americans lived. Some are private or personal things—such as Maidenform brassiere or a pair of patched blue jeans. Some are public by definition, such as the bus Rosa Parks boarded and refused to move back for a white passenger. Some material things or inventions reflect the ways public policy affected the lives of Americans, such as the Enovid birth control pill. An invention like the electric wheelchair benefited both the private and public spheres: it eased the lives of physically disabled individuals, and it played a role in assisting those with disabilities to campaign successfully for broader civil rights.

Artifacts from Modern America demonstrates how dozens of the material objects, items, technologies, or inventions of the 20th century serve as a window into a period of history. After an introductory discussion of how to approach material culture—the world of things—to better understand the American past, essays describe objects from the previous century that made a wide-ranging or long-lasting impact. The chapters reflect the ways that communication devices, objects of religious life, household appliances, vehicles, and tools and weapons changed the lives of everyday Americans. Readers will learn how to use material culture in their own research through the book's detailed examples of how interpreting the historical, cultural, and social context of objects can provide a better understanding of the 20th-century experience.

Gonzo journalist and literary roustabout Hunter S. Thompson flies with the angels—Hell’s Angels, that is—in this short work of nonfiction.
 
“California, Labor Day weekend . . . early, with ocean fog still in the streets, outlaw motorcyclists wearing chains, shades and greasy Levis roll out from damp garages, all-night diners and cast-off one-night pads in Frisco, Hollywood, Berdoo and East Oakland, heading for the Monterey peninsula, north of Big Sur. . . The Menace is loose again.”
 
Thus begins Hunter S. Thompson’s vivid account of his experiences with California’s most notorious motorcycle gang, the Hell’s Angels. In the mid-1960s, Thompson spent almost two years living with the controversial Angels, cycling up and down the coast, reveling in the anarchic spirit of their clan, and, as befits their name, raising hell. His book successfully captures a singular moment in American history, when the biker lifestyle was first defined, and when such countercultural movements were electrifying and horrifying America. Thompson, the creator of Gonzo journalism, writes with his usual bravado, energy, and brutal honesty, and with a nuanced and incisive eye; as The New Yorker pointed out, “For all its uninhibited and sardonic humor, Thompson’s book is a thoughtful piece of work.” As illuminating now as when originally published in 1967, Hell’s Angels is a gripping portrait, and the best account we have of the truth behind an American legend.


From the Hardcover edition.
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