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Uncommon Sense

By Morgan McCullough · March 02, 2022

Stuff for Your Ears

Ben Franklin's World 6 min read

Learning about Material Culture with Ben Franklin’s World

a blog post by OI Material Culture Fellow Morgan McCullough


Material culture otherwise called ‘stuff,’ has long been a topic of interest for scholars and students of vast Early America. The Omohundro Institute has recently explored material culture at the 2021 conference “Material Worlds/Virtual Worlds: the Physical and the Digital in Vast Early America.” This list of material culture related episodes of the Ben Franklin’s World podcast certainly blends the material and digital.

If you’ve been wanting to learn more about material culture or perhaps integrate stuff into your teaching, Ben Franklin’s World has variety of interviews with scholars working with vast early American material culture. Here is a list to get you started. Pick one or several to jump start your auditory exploration of stuff! With over three hundred episodes and counting this list certainly isn’t exhaustive, so make sure to investigate the Ben Franklin’s World archive.

Sponsored by the Omohundro Institute and supported by Colonial Williamsburg, Ben Franklin’s World is available wherever you get your podcasts.

Episode 84: Zara Anishanslin, How Historians Read Historical Sources

Start an investigation of material culture by learning how historians use sources. This interview with Zara Anishanslin, author of Portrait of a Woman in Silk: Hidden Histories of the British Atlantic World (Yale University Press, 2017) will also introduce you to portraiture, clothing, and silk making in the eighteenth century.

Episode 136: Jennifer Van Horn, Material Culture and the Making of America

Jennifer Van Horn, author of The Power of Objects in Eighteenth-Century British America (OI with University of North Carolina Press, 2017), introduces a variety of objects in this episode. Here you’ll discover how things like prosthetic limbs, cosmetic tables, gravestones, and cityscapes shaped the lives of early Americans. 

Episode 177, Martin Brückner, The Social Life of Maps in America

Maps came in all sizes and were made in fascinating ways, you’re sure to learn more about these objects in this interview with Martin Brückner author of The Social Life of Maps in America (OI with UNCP, 2017).

Episode 201: Catherine Kelly, Art, Politics, and Everyday Life in Early America

See how taste connected a variety of objects and places, from portraits of George Washington, to museums and even wax figures from Catherine Kelly, the OI’s Editor of Books and author of Republic of Taste: Art, Politics, and Everyday Life in Early America (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016).

Episode 241: Molly Warsh, Pearls & the Nature of the Spanish Empire

Learn all about pearls, how they form, and all the people who used them in this episode with Molly Warsh, author of American Baroque: Pearls and the Nature of Empire, 1492-1700 (OI with UNCP, 2018).

Episode 244: Kimberly Alexander, Shoe Stories from Early America

Discover all about early American shoes, from how they were made to the symbolism shoes could hold. This episode with Kimberly Alexander author of Treasures Afoot: Shoe Stories from the Georgian Era (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2018), will have you thinking about footwear in a whole new way.

Episode 290: The World of the Wampanoag, Part 1: Before 1620 and Episode 291: The World of the Wampanoag, Part 2: 1620 and Beyond

This two episode series explores the history of the Wampanoag and other Indigenous groups in the Dawnland, or New England. In these episodes you’ll find out about Wampanoag material culture including, fabric, sewing, boat construction, trade objects, and much more!

Episode 299: Janine Yorimoto Boldt, Colonial Virginia Portraits

You’ve probably seen historic portraits, but how did these fascinating objects come to be and how do historians use them to understand the past? Janine Yorimoto Boldt answers these questions and many others in this episode. Make sure to also check out the Colonial Virginia Portraits digital project to see some of the portraits discussed in this episode.

Historic sites and museums are great places to experience and investigate material culture but with travel difficult right now, these audio investigations are a great substitute. Here are a few episodes about historic sites and museums on both sides of the Atlantic. Check out a longer list here.

Episode 103: Sara Bon-Harper, James Monroe & His Estate Highland

Episode 248: BFW Road Trip: Washington, D.C., NMAAHC

Episode 295: Ibrahima Seck, Whitney Plantation Museum

Episode 320: Ben Franklin’s London House

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