Home is where…The Rich Cultural Analysis on Gender Roles and Objects is! Material Culture Reading Blog 4

     In Small Things Forgotten like other pieces covering material culture, stresses the importance of understanding both written sources and the unorthodox analysis from material objects. Through many examples, Deetz reveals with much archeological jargon, the values of early American societies through ordinary objects. His detailed research into gravestone motifs, was especially informative in understanding these concepts. “The period of decline of death’s-heads coincide with the decline of orthodox Puritanism”[1]. This kind of analysis was interesting besides being incredibly morbid. It wouldn’t have been the first place I would have thought to look at when examining material culture, so I think that’s why his analysis worked for me. Another piece of information I was not aware of till, Deetz mentioned it was the concept of “probate records” I decided something like this would be incredibly useful in researching my object, if I could get a hold of it.

Pearson and Mullins’ analysis, using similar practices to Deetz, reveals the methods of a company’s balancing act over conservative sympathies and socio-political realities related to women. The researchers document the different variations of Barbie across decades, which reveals this dichotomy. “In either instance, the domestication of Barbie likely more or less accurately reflected a society which divided with regard to women’s roles”[2] Through a detailed chronology of Barbie’s different accessories and fashion (from outfits such as Dentist Barbie and ‘What’s Cookin’?’) the researchers prove this point.

Whereas Pearson and Mullins analysis focuses on a company maintain gender roles for profit, Shrum’s research concludes the opposite. Shrum’s analysis focused is on the social history of the device Mr. Coffee. Her research into the early methods of coffee production, and the World War II era realities of coffee were incredibly interesting. Her analysis was not like the sort of lab report data heavy aspects of material culture on dimensions and what not. Her examples of how coffee was made in the percolator devices was informative though, and the length of time just describing this, made the amount of time people of the past had to spend making coffee more palpable. Most of her research though brought up conflicting ideas of masculinity and gender roles in the 1970’s.  “Having Mr. Coffee-both the machine and DiMaggio-in the kitchen functioned to reassure them that they could take on this new role without being emasculated”[3] This social reality in terms of material culture is important, especially as women were leaving the domestic sphere and working in large numbers for the first time since World War II. Overall this social context and the material object was incredibly informative. These readings brought together archeological practices onto domestic objects, which revealed important details of the lives of ordinary people.


[1] James Deetz, In Small Things Forgotten (New York: Anchor 1996) Pg 69

[2] Pearson and Mullins “Domesticating Barbie: An Archeology of Barbie Material Culture and Domestic Ideology” International Journal of Historical Archeology (December 1999) Vol 3 No 4 pg 257


[3] Rebecca K. Shrum “Selling Mr. Coffee: Design Gender and the Branding of a Kitchen Appliance” Winterhur Portfolio, (2014) Vol 46, Vol 4 pg 292

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