Do Objects Tell Us the Truth?

Can they lie?

Yes.

Check out Carla Cevasco‘s and Christopher Allison‘s video:

Learn more in Cevasco’s post at The Junto.  Here is a taste:

Is material culture as inherently untrustworthy? I was once at a conference roundtable where one attendee claimed that “Material culture is so elitist, just rich people’s stuff in museums.” Fortunately, a historical archaeologist in the room begged to differ, arguing that archaeology offered a rich record of people who did not necessarily leave written sources behind. When I recently required my students to analyze both a material and a textual source, they concluded that material sources were inherently more difficult to work with than their written counterparts. “Once I describe the object, there’s nothing left to say about it,” one student complained.

I’ve been hearing variations of this argument my entire academic life. As a scholar who both studies and teaches with material culture, I find this reasoning both fascinating and frustrating. Why do so many people, from scholars to students, consider material culture somehow a lesser form of evidence than the written word? New Materialists—the dominant theorists in material culture studies today—have argued that, in academia, the principle of “semantic ascent” devalues the material in favor of the abstract.[1] They contend, and I agree, that there are real drawbacks to focusing on abstractions. A lot of abstract academic work isn’t very approachable to the general public. Why not start with material things, things that surround everyone every day? When historians make public scholarship, shouldn’t we be looking at stuff?

Read the entire post here.