Undergraduate Research: The Material Turn in History

The Material Turn in History
HIST 4953 and 4955
Lezlie Knox

History majors in Lezlie Knox’s two-semester seminar sequence spent the year evaluating the “Material Turn” in History. In the fall semester colloquium (4953), they read about how other scholars have used not only objects which could be seen and touched, but also considered the function of the scents and sounds of material culture as historical evidence. As they mastered the historiography and began framing their own projects, students adopted material cultural history’s basic “research mantra”:

  • What is my object? 
  • If this is my object, then what is my historical question? 
  • If this is my question, then what is my methodology? 

In the spring seminar (4955) they used these questions to finish their research and compose article-length essays focused on a topic in their own geographical and chronological area of interest. In some cases, things like Wampum, make-up kits, and reliquaries, were the center of analysis. For others, photographs, advertisements, and popular media provided new angles on well-established narratives.  Finally, written evidence revealed how even ubiquitous objects like whiskey bottles, hatpins, holiday decorations, and boards games offered insights into social change.

Poster Session

These pictures from their poster session demonstrate the fruits of their research.

Material turn in history