Material Culture Culture is printed two times a year for members of PAS:APAL. It is abstracted and indexed in: JSTOR, ProQuest, History and Life, Historical Abstracts, GeoAbstracts, and the MLA International Bibliography. You may download a PDF of the table of contents of the current issue here. The Spring 2024 issue of Material Culture includes:

Representing the Anthropocene: The Story of Us at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History

By Rebecca A. Johns, School of Geosciences, University of South Florida

Abstract: Dominant narratives of the human relationship with nature and normative suggestions of how humans ought to relate to the larger biosphere permeate American culture. The public looks to spaces of science education to offer suggestions for action to ameliorate current crises of climate disruption and mass extinction. This paper applies discourse analysis to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History’s contemporary exhibits through a framework of storytelling and six archetypes of humanature. The museum’s exhibits tell a story of human superiority to others that bends toward optimism about the human ability to adapt to climate change, while deflecting responsibility from any particular place, institution or sector. Lack of interrelatedness and agency afforded to nonhuman others diminishes the chance that visitors will relate to the animals on display and hence limits motivation for action. I make suggestions on changes in discursive practice that might make the NMNH’s exhibits more engaging and energizing for environmental citizens.


Human and chimpanzee similarities sign at the museum

The Making of an American Cultural Icon: Postcard Imagery and Place Promotion along Route 66

By Adam A. Payne, Department of Geosciences, Auburn University, and Douglas A. Hurt, Department of Geography, University of Missouri

Abstract: U.S. Highway 66 (better known as Route 66) connected Chicago and Los Angeles between 1926 and 1985. Since then, remnants of the decommissioned road and adjacent tourist infrastructure have become heritage tourism destinations for those wishing to better understand America’s past. As part of the process of interpreting historic place promotion along the highway, we sampled 451 Route 66 historic postcards in the online collection of the Consortium of Academic and Research Libraries in Illinois. These visual geographies offer insights into how places were portrayed as Americans increasingly took road trips and car-based vacations. Several results emerged. The postcards were primarily published between 1940 and 1970 and offer a window into Route 66 during those decades. Geographically, postcards representing Arizona, Missouri, and Oklahoma make up nearly 60 percent of the sample. Thematically, businesses (such as motels and restaurants), the road itself, automobiles, and physical landscapes (often exotic desert or mountain locations) are commonly represented. Overall, these postcard images helped shape tourist (and non-tourist) interpretations of the highway in the middle of the twentieth century, contributing to the making of an American cultural icon.

Postcards From The Past: Pictures, Prisons, and Popular Culture

By Frank T. Morn, Professor Emeritus, Illinois State University

[Originally published in Material Culture, Fall 1999, 31 (3) pp. 53-70.]

Introductory paragraph: Historians have always looked for better ways to examine and understand the past. Evidence comes in a variety of forms. Letters, diaries, newspapers and public records have been favorites. Literature allows us to see the “architecture of the mind” of a period (Bender 1987, 11-40). All kinds of material objects can be useful too. Just like an archaeologist piecing together the past by examining artifacts, a historian may better understand history by looking at material objects. Those living in the past have created many images of themselves, be they portraits, frescos, or statues. Historical societies and museums are filled with the objects that make up history. What better way to see the past than looking at pictures of it (Hugnin 1999)?

Return to top