Material Culture Links

Not a week goes by when someone asks me "so, what is material culture anyway?"   Often I'm asked to weigh in as an expert on a family heirloom or a flea market find.  It's not about the monetary value, but the historical, aesthetic, or cultural value and social meanings of an artifact that constitute material culture studies.

Yet I do like to encourage curiosity, so I guide those inquiring minds to specific books, collections, experts, and increasingly, websites.  The following websites are useful for thinking about things and learning about the unruly field of American material culture studies.  I've also included links to online collections of specific types of material culture.  These are meant as introductions, not full treatments.

The one thing material culture studies once promised was an expansive view of the material world, but many in the field are not generalists, but specialists in one type or a few categories of objects.  For a very large bibliography of American material culture studies, see this expanded list created for American Material Culture:  Understanding Everyday Life (2008) by Helen Sheumaker and me.  I've only occasionally updated this bibliography; I promise to be more vigilant!

American Material Culture Studies Bibliography (88 pages and counting; opens in new window)

Discussion Lists

Artifact (Material Culture Caucus, American Studies Association)

Design History (Design History Society)

H-Material Culture



Academic Centers and Programs, United States

Bard Graduate Center:  Decorative Arts, Design History, and Material Culture

Center for Material Culture Studies, University of Delaware

Material Culture Program, University of Wisconsin

Winterthur Program in American Material Culture, University of Delaware

Online Collections, Exhibitions, and Resources

Advertising and Advertisements

Architecture, Interior Design, Built Environment, Landscape

Built in America:  The Historic American Buildings Survey/Historic American Engineering Record/Historic American Landscape Survey, Library of Congress

Architecture and Interior Design for 20th Century America:  Photographs by Samuel Gottscho and William Schleisner, 1935-1955, Library of Congress

Decorative Arts

Digital Library for the Decorative Arts and Material Culture:  Image and Text Collections, University of Wisconsin


Farber Collection, American Antiquarian Society



Early American Paintings, Worcester Art Museum


Pictures, Prints, Posters, and Ephemera

The Picture Collection Online, New York Public Library