Material Culture in America
Understanding Everyday Life
by Helen Sheumaker and Shirley Teresa Wajda, Editors
November 2007, 569pp, 7x10
1 volume, ABC-CLIO

Hardcover: 978-1-57607-647-7
$98, £73, 82€, A140
eBook Available: 978-1-57607-648-4
Please contact your preferred eBook vendor for pricing.

You can tell a lot about people by looking at their stuff—the things they make, possess, think, and value. That is the idea that drives the field of material culture, in which scholars explore the meaning of objects of a given society. And nowhere are those meanings more revealing than in the material culture of the United States.

The first encyclopedia to look at the study of material culture (objects, images, spaces technology, production, and consumption), and what it reveals about historical and contemporary life in the United States.

Reaching back 400 years, Material Life in America: An Encyclopedia is the first reference showing what the study of material culture reveals about American society—revelations not accessible through traditional sources and methods.

In nearly 200 entries, the encyclopedia traces the history of artifacts, concepts and ideas, industries, peoples and cultures, cultural productions, historical forces, periods and styles, religious and secular rituals and traditions, and much more. Everyone from researchers and curators to students and general readers will find example after example of how the objects and environments created or altered by humans reveal as much about American life as diaries, documents, and texts.


  • Nearly 200 entries tracing the history, production, consumption, and reception of various types of goods and exploring the uses and meanings of artifacts within changing social, cultural, economic, and political contexts
  • A detailed introductory essay unites each entry with a common thread
  • Contributions from over 50 scholars, curators, and teachers working in the field of material culture studies today, representing cutting-edge scholarship in museums and historical societies, universities and colleges
  • Illustrations include advertisements, such as a 19th-century trade card and a Singer sewing machine ad, plus photographs of a 1949 "Torpedo pedal car" and a life-size modernist-style streamlined locomotive prototype by Raymond Loewy
Helen Sheumaker, PhD, is associate professor of American studies and coordinator of museum education at the William Holmes McGuffey Museum at Miami University, Oxford, OH. Her published works include Love Entwined: The Curious History of Hairwork in America.

Shirley Teresa Wajda, PhD, teaches in the Department of History at Kent State University, Kent, OH. She is also coordinator of the American studies program. She received her doctorate in American Civilization with a specialization in American Material Culture Studies from the University of Pennsylvania. She has published essays in Material History Review, American Studies (Kansas), and Dress: The Journal of the Costume Society of America.


"Highly recommended for college libraries and large public libraries."—Booklist, February 15, 2008

"[T]his is a useful addition to undergraduate libraries, especially for the bibliographies."—Choice, April 1, 2008

"Material Culture in America forms a foundation for the basic reference source in the field . . . provides material appropriate for introductory classes in the field."—Material Culture, June 2, 2010
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