Front Matter - Editorial / Éditorial -

Front Matter
Editorial / Éditorial

Gerald Pocius
Editor in Chief

A New Name, a New Home and New Directions

1 In the life of a journal, there are certain junctures that involve major readjustments in the direction of the publication; this issue marks such an event. Material History Review is now Material Culture Review, with a new home at Cape Breton University, and a revamped Editorial and Advisory Board. Where we are now, where we hope to go, can be better understood by reviewing where we have been over the years.

2 By the 1970s, Canadian historians had discovered the artifact as an exciting new source for the study of the past, a source other disciplines had long utilized. Archaeologists had journals devoted to their analysis of artifacts. Anthropologists/ethnologists wrote about First Nations, and occasionally their interests included the material world. While many disciplines had already counted material evidence as part of their methodology, historians realized that the specialized studies that artifacts required did not fit comfortably into established history journals.

3 Those historians working within the museum research community turned to Ottawa for assistance, and researchers within the National Museum of Man (later renamed the Canadian Museum of Civilization) took the lead. The National Museum of Man already had a longstanding involvement with object research through its work in archaeology, the ethnological artifacts of First Nations, and collections related to the European past. The Museum of Man also had an established publication program (the Mercury Series) within each of its divisions, a name chosen because the published monographs, although having minimal production standards, were released quickly. The History, Ethnology, Archaeology and Folk Culture Divisions all had their Mercury series, usually monographs on specific topics.

4 In November 1975, a group of history curators and researchers from Canadian museums and from what was then the National Historic Parks and Sites met at the National Museum of Man in Ottawa for a special forum. Coming from these discussions, the History Division agreed to use their Mercury Series as an outlet for a new publication on artifacts. Initially, two numbers were published under the rubric of the on-going Mercury monograph series: Paper 15 (1976) and Paper 21 (1977). Both were collections of submitted essays.

5 The introduction of that first number of Material History Bulletin (Paper 15) began by stating that the pace of research in Canadian history museums had not kept up with the enormous expansion in collections.1 Later on in that introduction, the editors listed a number of reasons why material history research was important, among them “proper collections development as well as effective exhibits.”2 Further, “the establishment and recording of provenance, which enhances the value of objects in a number of ways, is a task for which historic sites and museums are well equipped.”3 Finally, at the conclusion: “Above all, we felt that museums and historic sites have a responsibility to be in the vanguard of research on material history. Except for some universities in Quebec, the academic community is unlikely to pay attention to material history....”4 Material History Bulletin was thus the creation of historians working in the museum community,5 with an agenda shaped by those working in museums.

6 Barbara Riley at the History Division of the National Museum was the leading figure in shepherding this emerging journal. She acted as Co-editor, along with Robb Watt of the Vancouver Centennial Museum. The second number of Material History Bulletin appeared as History Division Paper 22, in early 1977. It was not long afterwards that Material History Bulletin finally was published not as a History Division monograph, but as a stand-alone journal. Material History Bulletin 3 appeared in the spring of 1977, in what was the first free-standing issue.

7 The event that gave a higher visibility to the journal was the symposium organized by the History Division of the National Museum in 1979, and organized by Barbara Riley and other staff members. This meeting brought together scholars from across Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom and France in a gathering to assess what was going on in Canadian artifact research at the time, and to determine the directions in which to proceed. The symposium situated itself largely in the discipline of history, with a few stragglers from geography, folklore and art history. This group identified a scholarly theme largely overlooked in Canada—the material past of ordinary people of European background. After that gathering, the papers from “Canada’s Material History: A Forum” were collected and appeared as Material History Bulletin 8. While this was happening during the late 1970s in Canada, a similar move to discover the material past of ordinary people was occurring in the United States. The popularity of material culture research there had a dominant impact on the disciplines of American studies, historical archaeology, folklore studies, decorative arts and the direction of museums like Winterthur.

8 In Canada, the debate was quickly settled as to what to call this new pursuit. Since the driving force behind interest in this new field was primarily historians, and since the institutional support for the new publication came largely from history museums, there was no doubt that this intellectual endeavour would be called material history. Indeed, one of the leading proponents of this field at the time argued that Canadians should not be burdened with the problem that Americans faced by using the term “culture.” Culture was a much-debated and often ill-defined term, and therefore would be avoided. Instead, the term “history” was preferred, and the study of the past through objects would be known as material history. And since only professional historians were those properly trained to research the past, only historians could adequately study material history.6

9 Thus the Material History Bulletin was born, largely the creation of historians, most working within museum contexts. The founding members were confident that the journal would encourage the incorporation of artifacts into general historiography as well as a more sophisticated use of material evidence within museum contexts. That the intellectual direction of the journal was to be clearly determined by the museum world was evident simply by looking at the makeup of the Advisory Board of those first numbers: ten members affiliated with Canadian museums, and one private researcher. It was the Canadian museum community who would solicit the content for upcoming issues, and determine editorial direction.

10 That initial core of supporters, many at the History Division of what was now called the Canadian Museum of Civilization (CMC), gradually would be replaced by new scholars, but it was still through the support of the History Division that the journal continued to be published. However, the generous support programmes of the 1980s at federal institutions gradually gave way to fiscal restraint, and the Bulletin was one of many journals affected. CMC decided to scale back many of its publication programmes, arguing that it was in the business of being a museum, not a publisher. Those within CMC thus looked for additional support outside the institution. That new partner would be the National Museum of Science and Technology (NMST), and numbers 23 (Spring 1986) through 30 (Fall 1989) marked a period of co-production of the journal between the two institutions. The two museum directors noted that this arrangement was made “in recognition of the commitment of our two institutions to scholarly research, collections, and dissemination of our shared mandate with respect to Canadian material culture.”7 Soon after, Barbara Riley, the driving force behind Material History Bulletin, left CMC, a new editor was chosen, and the editorial board revamped.

11 In an essay I wrote in 1986, I discussed the state of material culture research in Canada and the United States.8 I argued that the leadership role in material culture studies in Canada would come from the museum community. This was different from the United States, where universities were at the fore-front of this scholarship. My assessment at the time was based largely on the work of institutions like CMC and NMST, who had organized conferences and promoted publications relating to material culture. My comments were ironic, however, for there was little representation from the Canadian museum community at the 1986 conference when I presented my paper. Attendance was largely made up of those associated with universities, with no one from the Editorial or Advisory Board of Material History Bulletin there. It was a portent of things to come; I did not realize then that the situation in Canada had already changed from what I argued it to be in my essay.

12 Material History Bulletin became the sole responsibility of the National Museum of Science and Technology with number 31 (Spring 1990). No comment appeared in the journal as to why the cessation of the co-publication arrangement, but clearly the Canadian Museum of Civilization withdrew all support. Geoff Rider of NMST stepped in to rescue the journal, taking on the role of Managing Editor. The production team would be led by Rider, and the journal would be produced with in-house assistance from various editorial, translation, and layout staff. Thus, the journal remained within the institutional world of Canadian museums, with a new home that would mean slightly more technology-related content in the coming years. Largely through the efforts of Geoff Rider, the journal survived.

13 Those now in charge of the journal realized the use of the term “Bulletin” was somewhat of a misnomer; periodicals called bulletins generally were synonymous with newsletters—filled with short news items rather than substantial analytical essays. Consequently, a year later the name was changed from Bulletin to Review (with number 33, Spring 1991), indicating to the unfamiliar reader that this was a serious academic journal. It was the hope, as well, that the new name would attract more submissions. The new editor, Peter Rider, of the History Division of CMC, noted production changes that had taken place, and that the new name represented an evolution involving actual content. Rider also pointed out that the journal would widen the number of relevant disciplines published in its pages to include art history, architectural history, ethnology and historical geography.9 The journal was clearly stepping beyond its early museum origins. Indeed, of the fourteen members of the journal board, now six were affiliated with post-secondary education institutions.

14 When I took over as Editor in 1997 (with number 45), I became the first person to hold that post who was not affiliated with a museum, but based in a university. Not realizing it at the time, that change was indicative of the gradual evolution of Canadian material culture studies from a museum base to a home within the university (the situation I had pointed out earlier as being characteristic of the United States). The new Advisory Board I formed in 1997 included representatives from the museum world, but also university colleagues who were doing work in material culture.

15 That museum world that had fostered Material History Bulletin was generally facing even more financial pressures. Many of the Canadian federal public sector programmes that proliferated during the Trudeau era gave way to fiscal restraints, restructuring, reduced budgets and an economy where the bottom line was of primary importance. National museums were under pressure to cut back even more on programmes that were not seen as central to their institutional missions. At the Canada Science and Technology Museum (CSTM)—the new name given to the National Museum of Science and Technology in 2000—the journal was seen by some as not where the institution should be spending its increasingly limited resources. By 2000, it was evident to the Material History Review Editorial Board that support from the CSTM might not continue, or rather, could not continue. At our annual meetings, options for the future would become a topic of discussion.

16 The word finally came that number 62 would be the last number that CSTM would produce and the journal would need to find a new home. Numerous emails to journal supporters, former Board members, and interested scholars finally led to Cape Breton University, Richard MacKinnon, and the Canada Research Chair that MacKinnon holds. After a series of discussions with Cape Breton University officials, MacKinnon was convinced that his institution could produce the journal. Transitional plans were made, and number 63 would be the first volume under this new institutional sponsorship. Richard MacKinnon would take over as Managing Editor, with Marie MacSween as Editorial Assistant.

17 The transfer from the Canada Science and Technology Museum to Cape Breton University represents an important commitment by that institution to support Canada’s leading journal of material culture research. The commitment retains our publication as an ongoing outlet for the exchange of current research ideas and methodologies. This new institutional base confirms the movement of Canadian material culture studies from the museum to the world of the university. That being said, the challenge for the university is to ensure the continued engagement of museum issues throughout the pages of the journal. In fact, we realize that the future of the journal rests to a large extent on providing an outlet for the important research that must continue to engage our public sector institutions—museums, historic sites, art galleries and heritage centres.

18 The shift to a new institutional home gave us all the chance to reflect on broader intellectual issues beyond simply funding. Over many exchanges, those of us on the Editorial Board agreed that a name change for the journal would be in order. In spite of the arguments that took place at the founding of the journal against the use of the term material culture, even historians now recognize and use that term. No matter what the discipline, researchers have agreed on the term material culture to cover the kinds of scholarship the journal publishes, and we believe it is now time for the journal’s title to reflect this fact.

19 The new title and new home for our journal, then, mirror the intellectual changes in our study of artifacts within the Canadian context. That study began through the leadership of historians, and has gradually shifted to include scholars in folklore, ethnology (as the term is used in francophone contexts), art historians, geographers and architectural historians. Historians initially argued for the incorporation of the artifact as a primary source of understanding the past. Unfortunately, to date that promise has not been realized. I wish I could say that the training of professional historians now includes as much methodological attention to artifacts as to archives, but I believe this is still not the case.

20 The change of the title from material history to material culture does not mean that our focus is no longer on studies of the past. On the contrary, we continue to pursue topics that attempt to provide us with insights into pasts neglected or misunderstood because of reliance simply on documentary sources. But the use of the term material culture indicates that our interests now include the study of the contemporary as well as the historical. Material culture scholars are often as much ethnographers as they are archival researchers, and interviews and participant-observation are additional methods of data gathering.

21 This issue of Material Culture Review, then, contains a diverse collection of essays—historical and ethnographic—indicating where we are now. Caroline Mercier traces the origins of the well-known clasping hands and heart motif used on popular artifacts, including jewellery. She describes its origins in the old world, and some of its uses in 17th- and 18th-century North America. In terms of the more recent past, Bill Manning’s research report outlines the various levels of messages communicated by the uniforms in the collection of the Canada Aviation Museum, messages often subtle, but important. Louise Saint-Pierre’s study of contemporary eating patterns provides insight into the kinds of choices we make when confronted with foods modified by advances in science and technology. Finally, Tom Urbaniak reflects on how contemporary society deals with the past, indicating the interest of material culture scholars in how pasts are appropriated by people today.

22 Material Culture Review’s new home affiliated with Richard MacKinnon’s Canada Research Chair in Intangible Cultural Heritage at Cape Breton University reflects the fact of how inseparable are ideas and objects, knowledge and artifacts, the tangible and the intangible. And our new name makes clear that whether we are studying the past or the present, we are interested in studying culture. The centrality of the culture concept to researching the artifact has long unified scholars in what we do.10 Objects remain a means to an end, that end being the understanding of people, and the role of things in everyday life. Meticulous documentation and identification of objects are important first steps in understanding the artifact world, and Material Culture Review will continue to publish such research reports. But our journal will encourage those studies that elucidate the meaning behind things, things used in the past or the present. We carefully document the artifacts we see around us, and in doing so, our goal is to understand the people who make, buy or use these objects. Place and time explain material behaviors, and why particular individuals act in specific ways through objects. Our goal, then, in the studies we publish, is to make us see better the connections between thoughts and things.


1 See Robb Watt and Barbara Riley, “Introduction,” Material History Bulletin, History Division Paper 15 (1976): 1-6.

2 Ibid.

3 Ibid., 4.

4 Ibid., 5-6.

5 Watt and Riley, “Material History Bulletin,” Material History Bulletin, History Division Paper 21 (1977): iiiii.

6 Gregg Finley, “Material History and Museums: A Curatorial Perspective in Doctoral Research,” Material History Bulletin 20 (Fall 1984): 75-79.

7 George F. MacDonald and J.W. McGowan, “A New Bulletin/Un nouveau Bulletin,” Material History Bulletin 25 (Spring 1987): iii.

8 Gerald L. Pocius, “Researching Artifacts in Canada: Institutional Power and Levels of Dialogue,” in Living in a Material World: Canadian and American Approaches to Material Culture, Social and Economic Papers 19 (St. John’s: Institute of Social and Economic Research, Memorial University of Newfoundland, 1991), 241-52.

9 Peter Rider, “Ongoing Changes to Material History Review/Nouvelle orientation de la Revue d’histoire de la culture matérielle.” Material History Review 33 (Spring 1991): 67-68.

10 Jules David Prown, “Mind in Matter: An Introduction to Material Culture Theory and Method,” Winterthur Portfolio 17, no.1 (Spring 1982): 1-19.