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Michigan State University

Renaissance or Early Modern Material Culture: RENAISSANCE OR EARLY MODERN MATERIAL CULTURE

This is a guide to researching the Renaissance/Early Modern Period, in the West, especially material culture.


This is a basic guide for researching material culture of the Renaissance period in British and Western European history. Researchers needing in-depth material about art or music of this period will want to consult our art librarian, Terrie Wilson, or our music librarian, Grace Haynes.

The Renaissance was a cultural movement between the 14th and 17th centuries that began in Italy in the late Middle Ages and spread throughout Europe. It encompassed the revival of learning based on classical sources, the rise of courtly and papal patronage, the development of perspective in painting, and advancements in science. The Renaissance had wide-ranging consequences in all pursuits, but is perhaps best known for its artistic aspects (Wikipedia). In terms of college teaching this time period is often referred to as “Early Modern;” chronologically, it falls between the medieval period and the industrial revolution.

Material culture is about the material world, daily life, work, food and drink, music, theater, dance and other entertainments and leisure pursuits, celebration of holidays, clothing, homes, implements, books and reading, and weapons, to name some of its concerns. “Everyday life consists of the little things one hardly notices in time and space… Through the details a society stands revealed. The ways people eat, dress, or lodge at the different levels of that society are never a matter of indifference.” (Braudel, Structures of Everyday Life. Harper and Row, 1979, 29.)

This guide is meant for history and literature students researching material objects in early modern culture in order to learn about everyday life, either for its own sake, or to help interpret history, literature, or drama.

The guide is also for those who want to serve a Renaissance period meal, dress-up in a Renaissance costume for Halloween, put on a Renaissance music and/or dance concert, celebrate Christmas; learn about children’s toys in this period…; in general this guide points the ways to find out how “people did life” in this period.

Michigan State University