Object Lessons: How Nineteenth-Century Americans Learned to Make Sense of the Material World

ISBN : 9780190225032

Sarah Anne Carter
216 Pages
156 x 235 mm
Pub date
Oct 2018
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Object Lessons: How Nineteenth-Century Americans Learned to Make Sense of the Material World examines the ways material things—objects and pictures—were used to reason about issues of morality, race, citizenship, and capitalism, as well as reality and representation, in the nineteenth-century United States. For modern scholars, an "object lesson" is simply a timeworn metaphor used to describe any sort of reasoning from concrete to abstract. But in the 1860s, object lessons were classroom exercises popular across the country. Object lessons helped children to learn about the world through their senses—touching and seeing rather than memorizing and repeating—leading to new modes of classifying and comprehending material evidence drawn from the close study of objects, pictures, and even people. In this book, Sarah Carter argues that object lessons taught Americans how to find and comprehend the information in things—from a type-metal fragment to a whalebone sample. Featuring over fifty images and a full-color insert, this book offers the object lesson as a new tool for contemporary scholars to interpret the meanings of nineteenth-century material, cultural, and intellectual life.


Prologue: A Box of Ideas
Introduction: Reason from Things
Chapter I: Windows and Ladders
Chapter II: Thinking with Things
Chapter III: Picture Lessons
Chapter IV: Object Lessons in Race and Citizenship
Chapter V: Objects and Ideas
Epilogue: Method over Matter in the Twenty-First Century Classroom
Bibliographical Essay: Object Lessons in the Archives
Selected Bibliography

About the author: 

Sarah Anne Carte is the curator and director of research at the Chipstone Foundation in Milwaukee. She has published, lectured, and taught courses on material culture, museum practice, and American cultural history. At Chipstone, Carter has collaboratively curated several exhibitions, including Mrs. M.-----'s Cabinet, and directs Chipstone's active museum Think Tank program.

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