By: Elizabeth Richards, Sherri Martin-Scott, and Kerry Maguire
Material culture studies physical objects as an indication of human behavior. Quilts are part of this special group of every day artifacts created by a variety of people in many different geographic locations and cultures. The lives of the creators are reflected through their history, material, construction, design, function and value of the quilts. Research on quilting is relatively new area of study: most of the work has been done within the last decade or two. An examination of quilt research demonstrates that a conscious methodology is often lacking in the documentation process. Formulating a research methodology helps to give validity to research on quilts as part of material culture research.
This paper examines the research literature in order to understand how quilts have been used in the study of material culture and therefore social history. What research methodology, if any, has guided scholars? What kind of information is important to them? How was information analyzed? Two methodologies, Fleming (1974) and the University of New Brunswick (1983-84), from the larger field of material culture suggest models which could easily be adapted for quilt research. Properties identified in these models were used to analyze published research literature on nineteenth century North and South Carolina quilts. Using these examples the paper will show how a model can be adapted for research and be instructive to persons initiating research in quilt history. By clearly identifying the process used in quilt research, comparison of different research studies can more easily be made.