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Material Culture


This is the second of two seminars which discusses the sources available to the historian of folklore. In this seminar we look at material culture, including architecture, art, clothing, and household objects.

Seminar Questions

What are the advantages and disadvantages of material culture as a source for the historian of folklore in the British Isles?

Choose and examine three types of household objects from this list.

Choose and analyse three items in the British Folk Art Collection.

Required Reading

Dyer, Christopher, 'History and Vernacular Architecture', Vernacular Architecture 28:1 (1997), 1-8.

Löfgren, Orvar, 'Material Culture', in Regina F. Bendix and Galit Hasan-Rokem, eds, A Companion to Folklore (Malden, MA, 2012),169-183.

Main, Veronica, 'Corn Dollies: Searching for the Seed of Truth', Folk Life 37:1 (1998), 44-63

Myrone, Martin, 'Instituting English Folk Art', Visual Culture in Britain 10:1 (2009), 27-52.

Thornton, Nicholas, 'Enigmatic Variations: The Features of British Smocks', Textile History 28:2, (1997), 176-184.

Further Reading

Alcock, N. W., People at Home: Living in a Warwickshire Village, 1500-1800 (London, 1993)

Barley, M. W., Houses and History (London, 1986)

Bourne, Henry, Arcadia Britannica: A Modern British Folklore Portrait (London, 2015)

Brunskill, R. W., Houses and Cottages of Britain: Origins and Development of Traditional Buildings (London, 2000)

Brunskill, R. W., Illustrated Handbook of Vernacular Architecture, 3rd ed. (London, 1987)

Brunskill, R. W., Traditional Buildings of Britain: An Introduction to Vernacular Architecture (London, 1981)

Cherry, Martin, and Adrian Green, 'Vernacular Architecture at 50: Towards the Study of Buildings in Context', Vernacular Architecture, 50:1, (2019), 1-17

Handley, Sasha, 'Objects, Emotions and an Early Modern Bed-sheet', History Workshop Journal 85 (2018),169–194.

Hannan, Leonie, and Sarah Longair, History Through Material Culture (Manchester, 2017)

Hannant, Sara, Mummers, Maypoles and Milkmaids: A Journey Through the English Ritual Year (London, 2011)

Johnson, Matthew H., English Houses, 1300-1800: Vernacular Architecture, Social Life (Harlow, 2010)

Johnson, Matthew, 'Vernacular Architecture: the Loss of Innocence', Vernacular Architecture 28 (1997), 13-19

Lawrence, Roderick J., 'The Interpretation of Vernacular Architecture', Vernacular Architecture 14 (1983), 19-28

McMillan, Jeff, Martin Myrone, and Ruth Kenny, British Folk Art (London, 2014)

Mercer, Eric, 'The Unfulfilled Wider Implications of Vernacular Architecture Studies', Vernacular Architecture 28 (1997), 9-12

Mills, Robert, British Folk Art (, 2011)

Quiney, Anthony, The Traditional Buildings of England (London, 1990)


Folkloric Photography

See also the resources here.

Trade Signs

Trade Signs, British Folk Art exhibition, Tate Britain, 2014.