Meaningful Stuff: Interpreting Material Culture

December 4, 2020

ANTHR 4235

Day/time: M or R 11:20am - 1:15pm

Mode: In person

Instructor: Frederic Gleach

Res ipsa loquitur -- the thing speaks for itself. This common expression captures a widespread belief about objects' roles in human lives, but deciphering what objects have to say is actually a complex cultural process. An object rarely has a single meaning; they are read variously in different cultural settings, and even by different individuals within a cultural system. How does one know, can one know, the meanings of an object? How are objects strategically deployed in social interaction, particularly in cross-cultural interactions where each side may have radically different understandings? How does one even know what an object is? We will explore the history and variety of ways that material culture and its meanings have been studied, using archaeological and ethnographic examples.


assorted items from anthropology collections