The first article that I want to mention today is the “White and black landscapes in 18-century Virginia”. The compare between black landscape and the great planter’s landscape gives me a great pattern to learn social experience. Different objects have their own specific factors and are also in deep connection among each other. Through the description of the size and quality of the black and white landscapes which is in the combination with historical background, the life of the past is present to us. I think this is a good way to learn objects which are in the same system but have different traits. Like the decoys, some are for practical use, some exist only for collections. And the relationship between them is thought-provoking, especially the meaning of the contradictory factors and same status. What did they represent for people, and how did they work with humans when they almost had the same look but worked in different ways?
What’s the most impressive thing is that the author use the outsider’s image as evidence to illustrate the point, which I think could not only unmask the village metaphor, but also avoid the bias in a good method. As for myself, when I got into deep touch with my decoys, I was often narrow-minded about my own shortness of knowledge and never tried to use outsider’s view to overcome my bias. Even after my visiting to a decoy museum, I was excited about the information that I collected, but ignored people’s opinion about decoys. The outsider’s image is another document for doing a research. For example, the reason why hunters were addicted into waterfowls was not merely using it as food. I saw the evidence from other disciplines and outsider’s views that the feather of waterfowls was popular at that time and in great demand. To break the shortness of our views, one way is to think in another way, like an outsider.
When it comes to “The social life of things—commodities in cultural perspective”, it reminds me the reading last week, “Makers, Buyers, and Users”. They seem like the same pattern, but focus on different parts. The former one tries to explain that people are parts of commodities and the status of human changes in various situation. The exchange value of objects and human also varies when time goes by. Connecting this theory to my research, the value of decoys changed a lot as some laws were set to protect the waterfowls. And at the same time, their own kind of morality changed accordingly. So, thinking in an economic way is quite good to discover new clues.
The mahogany in The Costs of Luxury in Early America really impressed me. From waste wood to luxury product, it revamped her image successfully. As Jennifer demonstrated that this transformation was caused not so much by coincident as by a confluence of events. The methods that she used to interpret the mahogany was simple and understandable. First, regrading to the objects per se, the natural features of them were significant to observe. For instance, the ecological and the geological situation gave the mahogany special physical properties which determined the exact use of them. Second, objects always associated with human performance and gained identity from those social activities such as the consumer fixations, labor regimes. The most interesting thing was that “enslaved Africans may have experienced and valued their natural surroundings in very different ways than their masters”. The extent to which individuals got involved in revealed the direct connection with objects. People who consumed those materials had different motivations and various goals. To have a better understand of people’s behavior at that time, the best way is to dig into the material evidence and interpret them in a proper way.
Another article just broadened my mind, “Makers, Buyers, and Users” provided me a totally different and new model to learn objects. The first time when I read the “Meaning in Artifacts: Hall Furnishings in Victorian America”, I had some questions about the people who bought the hall furnishing, like why did they buy this kind of things? And what did the design of the hall furnishings mean? In this case, I never thought about that the consumerism was a suitable way to study household goods even when I wrote my method research assignment. The method in “Mind the Matter” was so strong and impressive in my mind that it just became kind of my bias and I could not get out of the stereotype.
From this paper, Ann Smart Martin gave me a general view about consumerism. As shopping gradually became the mainstream of our pastime, the wish for material things was the new world power. (01) The buyers’ behavior of consumption was a vital part of social activities, so how consumerism effected people and interacted with objects was essential for historians to focus on. On the other hand, users also gave new meaning to objects. Also, learning from each subject could gave us new insights into the objects which were symbolic and complex to understand. Through searching the material information, there might be some patterns here to produce and assemble the goods. And it reminded me the experience from last class and presented a question to me about how to organize the order and make every step in good sense. So, in regard to the “makers”, I think that refining the methods or maybe deconstructing the methods is significant for qualifying the description of our objects.
Response paper 2
In the paper “The Workmanship of Certainty and the Workmanship of Risk”, David Pye gave me a clear interpretation of the theory of design and handcraft. The concept “the workmanship of risk” left me a deep impression, which means “workmanship using any kind of technique or apparatus, in which the quality of the result is not predetermined, but depends on the judgment, dexterity and care which the maker exercises as he works (The Nature and Art of Workmanship, p. 20). Usually, we just focus on the objects and ignore the craftsman because in our subconscious the technique itself was not so related to the human physical and mental activities. We only observed the results of the workmanship not to mention the difference between the certainty and the risk.
At this time, Pye asked a question: “Is the result predetermined and unalterable once production begins?” (The Nature and Art of Workmanship, p. 343) Which is the key one that determine the results? For example, in my study of duck decoys, the qualities between workmanship of certainty and risk are distinctive. Manmade decoys which have exquisite workmanship and ingenuity could be sold at a high price in an auction. But some decoys that were mass productive were used as normal tools to lure the wildfowl. Those questions help me pay attention to the form of the production and the value in the diversity and the aesthetic importance.
Then in the paper, Pye proposed that everything happens within a system of changes, which reminds me the theory of a collective performance from Latour. But Pye’s view was a little bit different from Latour’s. He thought tools could only avoid unhappiness instead of bringing happiness. And the objects could not enable new activities and behavior. In my opinion, no matter what kind of design of the objects, it could not be isolated from human activities.