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Skip to 0 minutes and 10 seconds So here I am, in the National Museum of Scotland, in the permanent collection upstairs, looking at some Jacobite objects. And before we get onto the objects, we need to think about what they are, what they represent. And what is material culture? So one of the purposes of this MOOC is to introduce students to material culture, but it’s not necessarily a term with which you will be familiar. So it may be useful for me to give a short account of it. Material culture is really a way of talking about objects– talking about them, but also their study. And it has been noted that the term, material culture, seems to bring together two otherwise quite different things.

Skip to 1 minute and 5 seconds So material implies something base, perhaps something earthy, whereas culture is much more abstract, lofty, intellectual, maybe. And so bringing these terms together is already producing a kind of nice friction– a sort of creative friction, or creativity that enables us to say, so what is material culture? And why does it matter? Well, obviously, I’m going to say that it matters because it’s what I study. But material culture enables us to access the past in concrete, tangible ways through the objects that have survived. And often, I like to think of the past as being a really richly furnished landscape of objects– or an objectscape– that’s sometimes a good way of thinking about it.

Skip to 1 minute and 58 seconds So what I want you to get a sense of is that material culture can mean different things to different specialists. But at its heart, it is about the study of objects. And usually, objects from the past. So material culture can also be about history of dress and textiles. It can be a worn world, if we put it like that. But material culture is also those objects that we come into contact with that we use to facilitate the business of our lives. And so, in terms of Jacobite material culture, what we’re looking at is a whole repertoire of objects– from across the long 18th century. And with material culture, what we’re doing is we’re talking about objects of all different media.

Skip to 2 minutes and 51 seconds So if we think about material culture as a richly populated objectscape, one of the difficulties in studying Jacobite examples is that, for very good reason, they tend to be displayed behind glass. And so obviously, we can’t interact with them, as the Jacobites did. And it’s my contention that actually that interaction with objects is one of the key rationale behind studying Jacobite material culture. Because the Jacobites– the men, the women, the supporters of particularly Prince Charles Edward Stuart, had this really interactive affective relationship with objects. And what we can do with these objects is we can use them to access the past. And objects are wonderfully tactile.

Skip to 3 minutes and 40 seconds Unfortunately, they’re almost always displayed behind glass, so we can’t get to them, but what we can see is how people in the past interacted with them. And in the case of Jacobitism, what we have is this really rich and exciting material culture that tells us about the struggles, about the bloodshed, and about the cause, and how it ebbed and flowed across the 18th century, and across Europe, and across Scotland.

What is 'material culture'?

We start with this film in which Professor Viccy Coltman, an art historian from the University of Edinburgh, introduces the concept of material culture. Viccy asks what is material culture and why does it matter?

Over the next three weeks we will be focusing on a series of iconic objects primarily from the National Museums Scotland collections that help us to tell the story of the Stuarts, Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Jacobites.

We will be looking in detail and in depth at each of these objects and addressing various questions, including the following:

  • What do these objects tell us about the Stuarts, their Jacobite followers and the wider context of 18th century society and politics?

  • Why are these considered significant or iconic objects?

  • How did they come to be in National Museums Scotland collections?

  • How are these objects cared for and presented by National Museums Scotland?

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This video is from the free online course:

Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Jacobites

The University of Edinburgh