Abstract

Scholars who incorporate objects into their research have their fingers closer to the pulse of the historic subjects of their studies than do those scholars who rely on only one type of data. But taking full advantage of the treasure trove of material culture requires a visual literacy that few historians have been trained to exercise. This essay explains some of the reasons for the disciplinary divides that separate objects and their curators from historians and their research agendas. It introduces myriad approaches to reading material culture that have the potential to inform students of rural and agricultural history. It suggests some basic steps to identify objects that can serve as material evidence of historic processes and that might also symbolize contemporary attitudes about the rural past. The possibilities are as endless as the objects created by people in the past.

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