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Object Lessons: How Nineteenth-Century Americans Learned to Make Sense of the Material World examines the ways material things—objects and pictures—were used to reason about moral issues, the differences between reality and representation, race, citizenship, and capitalism in the nineteenth-century United States. For modern scholars, an “object lesson” is simply a timeworn metaphor used to describe any sort of reasoning from concrete to abstract. But in the 1860s, object lessons were classroom exercises popular across the United States. Object lessons forced children to learn about the world through their senses instead of through texts and memorization, leading to new modes of classifying and comprehending material evidence drawn from the close study of objects, pictures, and even people. This book argues that object lessons taught Americans how to find information in things in the decades after the Civil War. More than that, this study offers the object lesson as a new tool with which contemporary scholars can interpret the meanings of nineteenth-century material, cultural, and intellectual life.
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