History 790 

Material Culture of 

Early America

Professor Emerson Baker

Course Syllabus

Some Interesting Web Addresses Related to this Course

General Sites
Crossroads: American Studies Association
National Endowment for the Humanities EDSITEment page
Library of Congress American Memory Project
Discovery Channel: Toys Were Us

National Museums
Smithsonian Institution
British Museum
Canadian Museum of Civilization

On-Line Journals
The Web of Time: Pages from the American Past

Material Culture of Early America   

HIS 790-S1


Department of History – Fall 2005

Sullivan Building 109A   Monday at 4:30




This course covers the identification, classification, and interpretation of the artifacts of early America. Handcrafted and mass produced materials of both domestic and foreign manufacture will be considered. The class will focus on the material culture of New England prior to 1860, and its interpretation by archaeologists, historians and museum professionals.


Course Objectives


Content Objectives - After completing this course, you should understand and be able to comment accurately on the following themes:

1. The use of material culture to understand the past.

2. The interdisciplinary relations ship of material culture history.

3. Recent trends in material culture research, in such areas as ethnicty, gender, and consumerism.             


Skills Objectives -   In this course you will have the opportunity to develop the following:

1.   a wide-ranging knowledge of artifacts of early

2.   ability to understand and use historical documents, particularly probate inventories

3.   writing in grammatically correct English, in proper historical citation style

4.   participating  in class discussions


Course Grade

Midterm examination                    20%

Final Paper                                    15%

Probate Analysis                           30%

Attendance & Participation          30%


Required Reading

Pauline K. Eversmann, comp., The Winterthur Guide to Recognizing Styles in Your Collection

ISBN# 0-912724-51-x


Ivor Noel-Hume, A Guide to Artifacts of Colonial America Philadelphia: U Penn Press, 2001.

ISBN# 0812217713


Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, The Age of Homespun: Objects and Stories in the Creation of an American Myth. NY: Alfred A. Knopf, 2002.  ISBN# 0679766448 


Richard Bushman, The Refinement of America: Persons, Houses, Cities. NY: Random House, 1992.

ISBN# 0679744142


James Deetz, In Small Things Forgotten: The Archaeology of Early American Life. Revised and Expanded Edition, NY: Anchor, 1996.  ISBN# 0385483996



Plus, other articles on reserve and on-line. Some articles will be available through Salem State’s subscription to J-STOR, available at www.salemstate.edu/library/research/databases/new.htm

Midterm exam - 20% of grade

 This exam will cover all lectures and readings from the beginning of the course through October 24, and will specifically test your ability to identify furniture and ceramics.  The midterm is on October 31.


Class Participation -30% of grade

I expect you to be here for class, and to always be ready to speak to the issues of the day.. Although much of class will be in the form of PowerPoint lectures, I always welcome questions and discussion. Also, many of the readings will give us a chance for class discussions. So please remain current in your readings.  


Written Assignments 50% of grade

There are a total of four written assignments for this class:

1. Book Review of Deetz (500 words) 7.5%

2. Book Review of Bushman (500 words) 7.5%

3. Probate Analysis – an 8-10 page analysis of primary sources 25%

4. Response to “Material Culture History: The Scholarship Nobody Knows” (1000-1200 words) 10%


Instructions for all written assignments

All written work is to be typed (or word processed) and double spaced, with one inch margins. Although this is not an English class, your spelling and grammar do matter a great deal, for the better you communicate your historical thoughts, the better I can evaluate them. If you use citations in your work, it is to be noted in historical  citation style, with footnotes or end notes, as indicated in the Chicago Manual of Style of Turabian. Remember, using the quotes or even the ideas of others without proper citation is plagarism. If you have questions about citation style, please ask. Papers not handed in during class on the due date are considered late, and will be marked down. The later they are, the more they will be marked down.


Statement of Nondiscrimination

Salem State College is committed to nondiscrimination of Handicapped persons as specified in section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Students who qualify as handicapped persons under the definition of this act should notify the instructor at the beginning of course so that reasonable modifications may be made when necessary.




A – required reading

B – optional reading, to pursue if your interests dictate

*   - reserve reading

Note – readings with URLs are available through J-STOR. You will need a college ID or college e-mail address to gain off campus access to J-STOR. To get an e-mail account, go to: http://navigator.salemstate.edu/


Sept 12      Introduction to the Course: What is Material Culture, Why Study it?

A. James Deetz, In Small Things Forgotten chapters 1-3


Sept 19      Method and Theory, the Evolution of Style and Introduction to Furniture

A.  Jules D. Prown, Mind in Matter: An Introduction to Material Culture Theory and Method
Winterthur Portfolio , Vol. 17, No. 1 (Spring, 1982), pp. 1-19
Stable URL: http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=0084-0416%28198221%2917%3A1%3C1%3AMIMAIT%3E2.0.CO%3B2-0

Jules D. Prown, Style as Evidence Winterthur Portfolio, Vol. 15, No. 3 (Autumn, 1980), pp. 197-210
Stable URL: http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=0084 0416%28198023%2915%3A3%3C197%3ASAE%3E2.0.CO%3B2-N
James Deetz, In Small Things Forgotten, chapters 4-6.

Sept 26      Furniture: 17th Century, William & Mary and Queen Anne Styles

A. Eversmann, The Winterthur Guide, 5-51

Begin Reading Richard Bushman, The Refinement of America

B. Joseph Manca, “A Matter of Style: The Question of Mannerism in Seventeenth-Century American Furniture,” Winthertur Portfolio 38:1 (2003) available at



Oct 3         Furniture: Chippendale, Classical Revival and Later Styles

A. Eversmann, The Winterthur Guide, 52-102

Continue Bushman The Refinement of America

Furniture hardware - Noel Hume pp. 227-232

Locks and padlocks - Noel Hume pp. 243-251

Candlesticks and lighting accessories - Noel Hume pp. 93-97

Gloria Main,  Probate Records as a Source for Early American History
The William and Mary Quarterly,  3rd Ser., Vol. 32, No. 1 (Jan., 1975), pp. 89-99
Stable URL: http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=0043-5597%28197501%293%3A32%3A1%3C89%3APRAASF%3E2.0.CO%3B2-T

* Articles in Dublin Seminar

B. *Kevin Sweeney, "Furniture and Domestic Environment in Wethersfield, Connecticut" in Robert St. George, ed., Material Life in America.


Oct 14       Ceramics: Introduction,  Stonewares and Porcelains (PLEASE NOTE FRIDAY CLASS)

A. Stonewares - Rhenish products - Noel Hume pp. 276-285

Stonewares - "Bellarmines" or bartmanns - Noel Hume pp. 55-57

Porcelains - Chinese - Noel Hume pp. 257-265

Deetz, Chapters 6-9   

B. Patricia Samford, The Archaeology of African-American Slavery and Material Culture WMQ > 3rd Ser., Vol. 53, No. 1,  (Jan., 1996), pp. 87-114  Stable URL: http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=0043-5597%28199601%293%3A53%3A1%3C87%3ATAOASA%3E2.0.CO%3B2-U



Oct 17       Ceramics: Tablewares

A. British earthenwares - Noel Hume pp. 102-137

Iberian and other European products - Noel Hume pp. 138-145

American products - Noel Hume pp. 98-101

Continue Bushman – discussion of Bushman.

*Beaudry et al, “A Vessel Typology for Early Chesapeake Ceramics”


Oct 24       Ceramics: The Creamware Revolution

A. Complete Bushman – Discussion of Bushman

B. Regina Lee Blaszczyk, Ceramics and the Sot-Weed Factor: The China Market in a Tobacco Economy
Winterthur Portfolio,  Vol. 19, No. 1 (Spring, 1984), pp. 7-19
Stable URL: http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=0084-0416%28198421%2919%3A1%3C7%3ACATSFT%3E2.0.CO%3B2-%23



Oct 31       MIDTERM EXAM!! & Structural Artifacts

A. Decorative tiles - Noel Hume pp. 285-294

Roofing tiles - Noel Hume pp. 294-295

Bricks - Noel Hume pp. 80-84

Window glass - Noel Hume pp. 233-35

Nails - Noel Hume pp. 352-353

Nov. 1       Glasswares: Bottles and Tableware 

A. Krill and Eversmann, chapter 15

Liquor bottles - Noel Hume pp. 60-71

Drinking glasses & decanters - Noel Hume pp. 184-202

Begin Ulrich, The Age of Homespun

* Horn,” The Bare Necessities”

Nov 14
      Foodways and Domestic Economy

A. Cooking vessels - Noel Hume pp. 175-176

Cutlery and spoons - Noel Hume pp. 177-183                                  

Pins, needles, and thimbles - Noel Hume pp. 254-256

Scissors - Noel Hume pp. 267-268

Toys - Noel Hume 313-21

Continue Ulrich, The Age of Homespun

Sarah F. McMahon, A Comfortable Subsistence: The Changing Composition of Diet in Rural New England, 1620-1840, WMQ , 3rd Ser., Vol. 42, No. 1 (Jan., 1985), pp. 26-65
Stable URL: http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=0043-5597%28198501%293%3A42%3A1%3C26%3AACSTCC%3E2.0.CO%3B2-J

B. Henry M. Miller, An Archaeological Perspective on the Evolution of Diet in the Colonial Chesapeake, 1620-1745 in Lois Carr et al eds., Colonial Chesapeake Society, pp.  176-99.


Nov 21      Tools, Hardware and Weaponry

A. Hinges - Noel Hume pp. 235-236

Spades and hoes - Noel Hume pp. 274-275

Horseshoes and horse furniture - Noel Hume pp. 237-242

Continue Ulrich, The Age of Homespun


Dec. 5        Personal Artifacts  

A. Clay tobacco pipes & pipestem dating Noel Hume pp. 296-313

Clothing and jewelry

            Rings, finger -  Noel Hume pp. 265-266                                                                     

            Buckles - Noel Hume pp. 84-88

            Bells - Noel Hume pp. 58-59

            Wig Curlers - pp. 321-23

Health and Hygiene

                  Drug pots and jars - Noel Hume pp. 203-210

            Chamberpots - Noel Hume pp. 145-150

            pharmaceutical bottles -  Noel Hume pp. 72-76

Continue Reading Ulrich, The Age of Homespun



Dec 12       Trade and Commerce  - The Consumer Revolution

A. Cloth seals Noel Hume pp. 269-270

Coins, tokens and jetons (Noel Hume pp. 154-173)

*James Axtell, "The First Consumer Revolution"

*Cary Carson, “Material Culture History: The Scholarship Nobody Knows”

In American Material Culture: The Shape of the Field. 


Dec 19       Textiles, Needlework, and Floor Coverings 

A. Finish reading Ulrich – discussion of Ulrich

                  RESPONSE TO CARSON DUE!        


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