Cultural and Ethnic Studies Paper

Title: Cultural and Ethnic Studies

Summary of the First Article

The first article is “Material Culture Studies in America: Notes toward a Historical Perspective” by Thomas J. Schlereth, and its purpose is to analyze aspects of American material culture. According to the author, some of the trends characteristics of the American material culture movement include the expansion of national museums over the decades, the growth of historic preservation activities, freedom of antique collecting, and the renewal of interest in local history and community heritage. These trends help in the preservation of American artifacts (Pierson & Davidson, 1960; Lowenthal, 1977).

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Schlereth (1979) points out that prior to 1948, major historical restorations including Greenfield Village in Michigan were supported by private philanthropists like Henry Ford. The 1920s saw the opening of the American Wing of the New York City Metropolitan Museum of Art. Soon afterwards, various artists started collecting native objects and major historical reconstruction and renovations were undertaken, showing American democratic nationalism. The article also reports that after the Second World War, various museums came up and a curriculum was developed for the scholars seeking careers in museums. This curriculum was called Early American Culture. Moreover, journals and newsletters were established for the sole purpose of exposing material culture to the whole of America (Harris, 1977).

The author notes that by the 1960s, historical preservation had widened. There were expanded research institutions and teaching of American art history. The production of artifactual evidence was made easier and so did its reproduction. Tourism also played a big role in expanding the material culture movement over time. Based on this analysis, Schlereth (1979) predicts that the future is expected to see the accentuation of the current search for proper methodologies in artifact research and possibly the registration and storage of artifacts using computerized techniques.

Questions from the first article

  1. Following the progress of American material culture over the decades, what changes can we expect in this generation?
  2. Will the use of computerized techniques erode the whole essence of artifactual history and material culture?
  3. Is the young generation interested in art history?

Summary of Second Article

The second article, “Dyeing Commodities Whether in Roote or Floure”: Reconstructing Aboriginal Dye Techniques from Documentary and Museum Sources” by Bohr & Lindsay (2009) examines how various documentary sources have come up with different ways to describe Aboriginal quill dyeing techniques, in the process identifying recipes for quill dyeing and trying to reproduce the recipes. The authors of this article observe that the Aboriginal people of North America used minerals and plant or animal parts to color originally white or ivory colored porcupine quills for embroidery and decorations. With this came European interest in their dyeing techniques, especially in producing strong red colors, which was difficult to find and expensive to manufacture.

According to Bohr & Lindsay (2009), in the 1700s, the Europeans managed to come up with similar dyeing technology to the Aboriginal dyeing methods, using dyestuffs obtained from insects, animals, minerals and plants. However, in the late 1800s, with the popularity of industrial chemical-based coloring agents, they gradually stopped searching for profitable natural dyestuffs from North America (Davies & Johnson, 1965). By the late 1900s to the early20th century, governments started distributing commercially produced dyestuffs to Aboriginal people gradually replacing locally produced dyestuffs (Denys & Ganong, 1908).

The article also examines how European experiments in the 1600s and 1700s involved collecting and studying various natural specimens including birds and plants in order to find the best dyestuffs and recipes for fur trading. Cree women in the north use the roots of Galium tinctorum and boreale (bedstraws and cleavers) to dye a beautiful red and the bark of the alder to dye black. The general technique for dying quills involved boiling the preferred produce and porcupine quills together until the color required was obtained.

Questions from the second article

  1. Would you prefer chemical-based dye or natural dye?
  2. Quills have natural oils. How were the aboriginal people able to remove those oils before dyeing them?
  3. Can the principle of ‘The end justifies the means’ be applied to the process of making natural dyes?


Bohr, R. & Lindsay, A. (2009). “Dyeing commodities whether in roote or floure”: Reconstructing aboriginal dye techniques from documentary and museum sources. Material Culture Review, 69, 121-126.

Davies, K. & Johnson, M. (1965). Letters from Hudson Bay, 1703-40. London: Hudson’s Bay Record Society.

Denys, N. & Ganong, W. (1908). The description and natural history of the coasts of North America (Acadia). Toronto: Champlain Society.

Harris, N. (1977). “Museums, Merchandising and Popular Taste: The Struggle for Influence”. In Quimby, K. Material Culture. Boston, MA: Harvard University Press.

Lowenthal, D. (1977). The Bicentennial Landscape: A Mirror Held Up to The Past. The Geographical Review, 67(3), 253-267.

Pierson, Jr., W. & Davidson, M. (eds.) (1960). Arts of the United States: A pictorial survey. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.

Schlereth, T. (1979). Material culture studies in America: Notes toward a historical perspective. Material Culture Review, 8, 20-31.

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