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Posts from the ‘Material Culture’ Category

Some Baskets at Work in Zanzibar

Marsha MacDowell and Kurt Dewhurst kindly shared these photographs of work baskets in Zanzibar. The images were taken while they were visiting Tanzania as part of a large Michigan State University project. The photographs were taken in July 2017 in the historic Stone Town area and were manufactured just outside the historic district. Kurt took the photographs. See below.

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A Japanese Packbasket

Here I present another of the Asian packbaskets that I examined in the ethnology collections of the Department of Anthropology, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution. (See here for a previous post.) This example is catalogue number E402450. It was collected in the early 1960s in Koishiwara, Fukuoka Prefecture as part of a larger post-war systematic collecting effort that aimed to improve coverage of Japanese culture in the National Museum of Natural History’s collections overall.

As a tool of work, this example is exceptional. It is very sturdy and well-executed, with a range of impressive features, such as the strong-but-comfortable twined straps, the careful inner attachment bar for the straps, reinforcements in the inner bottom, finely executed rope, and a sturdy rim.

For an exceptional study of basketry from a different part of Japan—one that devotes significant attention to packbaskets, that is based on a different collection at the NMNH, and that is now accessible in a open access edition from the Internet Archive, see A Basketmaker in Rural Japan by Louise Allison Cort and Nakamura Kenji (Washington: Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, 1994). This volume focuses on the life and entire basketry repertoire of Hiroshima Kazuo. It is an impressive exhibition catalogue evoking a rich cultural practice and a talented individual. I wish that we knew more about the maker of this basket from Koishiwara.

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An overall look at 402450.
NMNH E402450 Front A
The front of the basket.
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Top strap attachment inside the basket.
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Inside and bottom of the basket.
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The rope tied off at the front top of the basket.

An Ifugao Packbasket from Northern Luzon, Philippines

In connection with ongoing research on work baskets in the Southwestern provinces of China, I spent some time during the Summer Institute in Museum Anthropology looking comparatively at packbaskets from societies in East and Southeast Asia. These baskets are from a variety of accessions in the ethnology collections of the Department of Anthropology, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution.

Below, I share some photographs of a “backpack” basket from among the Ifugao people of Northern Luzon in the Philippines. Collected about 1977 and donated about 2001, it is catalog number E431417. Finely made, among its most distinctive features are the flaps that pull down over the opening when it is worn. Its a very clever design, one unlike any others among the baskets that I have seen in the NMNH collections.

NMNH E431417 Back ANMNH E431417 Bottom ANMNH E431417 Front ANMNH E431417 Side A

A Peak at Two “Miao Albums” with a Group of SIMA Colleagues

(Note to readers. This post has been added to. Whether inserted into the original text or added at the bottom, additions will be shown in red.)

Working with the graduate students participating in the Summer Institute in Museum Anthropology is a pleasure. The students who are attending in order to gain skills for their own long-term research and who are doing their own collections-study projects are an obvious focus for faculty attention, but another group of student (and recently graduated) colleagues are also at the heart of SIMA. These are the collections interns—students who are usually pursuing masters degrees in anthropology and/or museum work—who help to make the student research possible through their facilitation of collections access. The regular collections management staff of the National Museum of Natural History’s Department of Anthropology are too few and have everyday tasks to attend to, thus the SIMA interns make a decisive difference in the work of the institute. They are excellent. Most days, they are occupied helping the institute participants access collection objects for research, but today they and I took a few moments to look at a couple of treasures as a group. I thank them for joining me in this quick collections adventure. (We snuck away during a seminar. Don’t tell anyone…)

What we saw together was (as I had hoped) a collection of annotated paintings of a type known in English as a “Miao album.” In American scholarship on China and its frontiers, such an album is the focus of The Art of Ethnography: A Chinese “Miao Album” translated by David Deal and Laura Hostetler with an introduction by Laura Hostetler (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2006). In such books, Chinese observers (artists/scholars/officials…) documented the cultural life of peoples of the Chinese borderlands in paintings and ethnographic text. None of our group are specialists, but we knew that we were looking at something really important and that these books are inherently interesting. Here are a some images of us with these albums. We did not look at each page, but we took enough time to ooh and ahh over a few pages in each of these fragile, beautiful books. We all hope that they can be the focus of new scholarly attention soon.

One of these books is Department of Anthropology, National Museum of Natural History E424083 and the other is E175187. (You can search them in the public database here: http://collections.nmnh.si.edu/search/anth/#new-search )

The members of our expedition (with me) were Eilanra Abdesho Kavsi, Sarah Baburi, David Gassett and Emily Cain . Herself a former SIMA intern, Emily now works full-time in the Department of Anthropology. Eilanra and David are all studying a mix of anthropology and museum studies at the MA-level at George Washington University, while Sarah has recently completed her own MA degree in these fields, also at GWU.

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Our group getting ready to peak at the first of the books on our agenda. (L-R: Emily, Sarah, David, and Eilanra)

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Even the cover is pretty great.

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Our first glimpse.

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This is the first in-person “Miao Album” painting for all of us, myself included.

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Baskets, of course.

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You can get a partial glimpse of the associated text on the facing page here.

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While we normally wear gloves, for fragile things, it is sometimes best to use clean hands.

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Our group, studying.

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Until the translation proves us wrong, we think it is a game scene. See Note 3 below for information from Qing Colonial Enterprise.

IMG_5856More baskets, of course.

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Our favorite, so far. We do not know yet why these guys are trying to fight but we admire the effort of the women to prevent it. See Note 2 below on how this scene appears in The Art of Ethnography. See Note 3 below for information from Qing Colonial Enterprise.

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Weaving inside, hair care outside. See Note 3 below for information from Qing Colonial Enterprise.

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We were pretty worried about the guy in the blue cap, as with think he might be held captive. We look forward to the finding out what the associated caption says. UPDATE. See note 1 below. Also, see Note 2 below on how this scene appears in The Art of Ethnography. See Note 3 below for information from Qing Colonial Enterprise.

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The paintings are still beautiful, but insects have done what insects do.

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Here we begin to investigate the second of the two albums (E424083), this one with wooden covers

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In the second album, the paintings span the fold and the text is integrated into the images, as seen here.

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Both albums include musicians and include images of this particular type of drum.

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More work baskets, of course. See Note 3 below for information from Qing Colonial Enterprise.

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This is a detail from a scene in which four people do something with their arms pulled inside their sleeves like this. Whatever it was, we were interested in it. We also liked the hem of her skirt. See Note 3 below for information from Qing Colonial Enterprise.

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Plowing. Do they take turns pulling? Also, see Note 2 below on how this scene appears in The Art of Ethnography. See Note 3 below for information from Qing Colonial Enterprise.

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There is always work to do, even if the illiterate museum ethnographers do not yet know what it is all about.

IMG_5877The region’s famous basketry raincoats, we think.

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Work baskets, one last time.

Updates:

Note 1 (July 23, 2017). I returned from my time at SIMA and the NMNH in July 2017 and immediately went to look at The Art of Ethnography: A Chinese “Miao” Album (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2006). Regarding the picture of a person being held captive noted above (see the picture that is captioned “We were pretty worried about the guy in the blue cap…”), I note that the image shown here is almost the same as, but not the same as, Plate Number 63 (pages 126-127) in The Art of Ethnography. It will take time to sort out what is going on in this instance, but one or the other plate is clearly a copy of the other. The text in The Art of Ethnography indicates that the scene is about the waylaying of solitary travelers, placing them in a wooden yoke, and extorting them to redeem their own freedom. I checked The Art of Ethnography out of the library right before this trip and now have even more reason to read it asap.

Note 2 (July 26, 2017). In reading The Art of Ethnography, I learned about how “Miao Albums” were frequently copied (inexactly) and observed that some of the pages that we saw in the two NMNH albums appear in similar form in the album published in The Art of Ethnography. Here are three known examples (see above):

(1) The scene of the men fighting but being restrained by the women (see p. 28 (#14) in The Art of Ethnography and the E175187 scene pictured here);

(2) The scene of plowing, where a man pulls the plow (see p. 106 (#53) in The Art of Ethnography and the image from NMNH E424083 pictured here);

(3) The scene of the scene of a man being held hostage in a wooden yoke (see p. 126 (#63) in The Art of Ethnography and the image from E175187 pictured here).

Note 3 (July 28, 2017). In reading Laura Hostetler’s Qing Colonial Enterprise: Ethnography and Cartography in Early Modern China (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001), I learned further about the re-occurring tropes linked to specific groups from those reoccurring in book after book. In relation to some of those pictured above, I can note, for instance “Women restrain men from fighting one another” is the brief description that Hostetler points to as reoccurring for Hong Miao entries (see above). Similarly, the trope table in Qing Colonial Enterprise notes (with group identifications): “A tall ladder leads from a streambed up a steep cliff. Figures appear above and below” (Kemeng Guyang Miao); “Men and Women dancing. Long sleeves cover their arms and drape down over their hands” (Lingjia Miao); “Two women play Chinese chess” (Qing Zhongjia); “Several armed men surround a Han prisoner in a cangue whom they kidnapped for ransom” (Qingjiang Zhongjia); “One woman works at a loom, another washes her hair in a basin” (Yangdong Luahan Miao); “Agricultural scene. Two men plow a paddy. No draft animal is used; instead a man pulls the plow” (Yetou Miao); (See pp. 171-174)

The Basketry of Blaise Cayol: A Mathers Museum Connection to Southern France on the Occasion of the Indiana University Visit to Marseille

Indiana University has connections and partnerships all around the world. This week, special attention is being directed to Spain and France, where IU President Michael M. McRobbie is leading a delegation of university leaders and visiting some of our important institutional partners, as well as connecting with our students studying in some of the most longstanding and distinguished of our study abroad programs.

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Basket Maker Blaise Cayol (right) and two American Scholars (left) at the International Folk Art Market in Santa Fe, New Mexico, 2015.

Today IU leaders met with senior administrators and faculty of Aix-Marseille Université in Marseille. Not far from there lives a very talented French basket maker with whom the Mathers Museum of World Cultures has begun corresponding. In the summer of 2015 I had the pleasure of meeting him at the International Folk Art Market in Santa Fe, New Mexico. His name is Blaise Cayol and he lives in the town of Tavel in the Occitanie region of southern France. Blaise has mastered the making of willow basketry in a wide variety useful forms that are characteristic of his region and, like many of the most talented contemporary basket makers working in traditional materials, techniques, and forms, he has also developed his own unique designs and creative works. As the Mathers Museum of World Cultures prepared to present an exhibition of the work of Indiana-based willow basket maker Viki Graber in 2015, I had the opportunity to not only meet Blaise, but to obtain two of his baskets for our collection. They provided a great pairing with Viki’s European-rooted-but-American willow baskets. In a wonderful way, they also helped expand our museum’s collection of contemporary European objects. (A pressing need given the small and less-well documented nature of our European holdings.) Since meeting Blaise, he has been a generous correspondent answering my questions about French basketry in general and his basketry in particular. As President McRobbie and our Indiana University colleagues visit southern France, it is a nice moment to celebrate our museum’s connection with Blaise and with the very rich tradition of French art, craft, design, and culture that he carries forward into the contemporary world.

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French willow baskets await the crowds at the 2015 International Folk Art Market.

You can learn more about Blaise’s work on his website here: http://www.celuiquitresse.com/p1.htm. You can also learn about his work in a short English-language video compiled by the International Folk Art Alliance (organizers of the International Folk Art Market). The four-minute video is titled Baskets are Universal Objects and it is on Vimeo here: https://vimeo.com/67416276. If you can make it to the folk art market this summer, I know that Blaise would love to sell you one of his baskets and tell you about the contexts from which the come.

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A basket by Blaise Cayol, now in the collections of the Mathers Museum of World Cultures.

You can learn more about the Indiana University delegation to Spain and France via this press release: https://news.iu.edu/stories/2017/05/iu/releases/12-spain-france-delegation.html and the stories being shared on the trip blog: http://blogs.iu.edu/france-spain-2017/

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A basket by Blaise Cayol, now in the collections of the Mathers Museum of World Cultures.

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There are always big crowds at the International Folk Art Market where Blaise Cayol is a favorite artisan.

Translation and Materiality: The Travels of European Porcelain (2017 Bauman Lecture)

News of the upcoming Richard Bauman Lecture in the Department of Anthropology at Indiana University is now circulating on campus. Here are the details about this year’s talk by Professor Susan Gal of the University of Chicago. Quoting:

“Translation and Materiality: The Travels of European Porcelain”
Dr. Susan Gal

Friday, March 24th
3:00 PM
Wylie Hall 005
Indiana University Bloomington

Abstract:

Porcelain is, today, a familiar material of dishes, figurines and tiles. The qualities of such objects – fineness, artistry – point to similar qualities in their buyers and users. Certainly, that is the role of material objects in systems of social distinction. Yet, this view often presumes that material qualities pre-exist the social, and need only be recognized. In some versions of the current ontological debate in Anthropology and Cultural Studies, materiality is the ultimate limit on cultural interpretation. I argue, instead, that the properties of materials are not fixed. They are semiotic achievements reached by a dialectical process of embodied social interaction with objects within political and economic institutions. The histories of “porcelain” in Europe show the varied qualities it has embodied as it has been swept up – and translated – into diverse regimes of knowledge, state economic strategies, and politico-ethical discourses. Translations of porcelain destabilized attributed qualities, changing “it” as sign and as material.

CFP: Museum Anthropology Futures

On behalf of the Council for Museum Anthropology, I am happy to pass along the call for proposals for the Museum Anthropology Futures conference in Montreal this May. Find details below. (Quoted material follows, contact the organizers with questions or concerns.)

Call for Session Proposals: “Museum Anthropology Futures” Conference (due March 1)
Council for Museum Anthropology Inaugural Conference

May 25-27, 2017 at Concordia University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada

The Council for Museum Anthropology is seeking submissions for its inaugural conference taking place in Montreal from May 25-27, 2017. This will not be your traditional conference experience! “Museum Anthropology Futures” seeks to spark critical reflection and discussion on (1) the state of museum anthropology as an academic discipline; (2) innovative methods for the use of collections; (3) exhibition experiments that engage with anthropological research; and (4) museums as significant sites for grappling with pressing social concerns such as immigration, inequality, racism, colonial legacies, heritage preservation, cultural identities, representation, and creativity as productive responses to these.

The conference will have several sessions each day that all participants will attend, as well as one period each day with breakout sessions like workshops and formats that would benefit from a more intimate setting for dialogue and collaboration.
We are seeking session proposals that are different than the usual call for papers – see session descriptions below. Feel free to email us with questions at museumfutures2017@gmail.com.

Updates available at our Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/MuseumFutures/

Email your session proposal to museumfutures2017@gmail.com by March 1, 2017

Please provide the following information in your email text, no attachment:

1) Your name, title, home institution (if applicable), and email address
2) Your proposed session format (see below)
3) The title of your session
4) Additional session participants if a group submission (title and email address)
5) A description of your session (max 150 words) Specific requirements for each format below.
6) What you hope to achieve in presenting/participating in this session (1-3 sentences)
7) What you believe this session can contribute to museum futures (1-3 sentences)
***Please note: Some Workshops and Pre-circulated Paper sessions will be by registration only due to limited capacity. All other sessions are open to all conference participants. For example, Roundtable or PechaKucha sessions will have several presenters who discuss their work, and the audience attending the session is invited to listen and ask questions or give feedback.***

SESSION FORMATS
Read more

An Interview with Jessica Richardson Smith, Museum Anthropologist and Research Services Librarian at the Historical Society of Washington, D.C.

Jessica Richardson Smith is the Research Services Librarian at the Historical Society of Washington, D.C. She pursued three majors—Anthropology, Latin and Greek, and Geology for her Indiana University BA degree from the College of Arts and Sciences. While at Indiana, she used the museum practicum course in the Department of Anthropology to gain a range of experiences working in the Midwest Archaeological Laboratory. That work resulted in a published paper—Tools of the Trade: Chipped Lithic Assemblages from the Hovey Lake (12Po10) and Ries-Hasting (12Po590) Archaeological Sites, Posey County, Indiana (with Cheryl Ann Munson, Meredith B. McCabe and Dean J. Reed). She earned a master’s degree from the Department of Anthropology at the George Washington University and leads the Wymer’s DC project.

Jason Baird Jackson (JJ): Before we circle back and discuss your experiences at Indiana University and George Washington University, I’d love to begin by finding out about the mission of the Historical Society of Washington and your role there. What are your core responsibilities as a Research Service Librarian?

Jessica Richardson Smith (JRS): Sure! The Historical Society of Washington, D.C. is a 122-year old educational and research institution that collects and shares the history of Washington, D.C., emphasizing the local community over the federal city. We are a team of seven who strive to produce diverse public programming and exhibitions, as well as public access to our collections. That’s where I come in as the Research Services Librarian. The core of the Historical Society is our research library which houses over 100,000 photographs, over 800 manuscript collections, and hundreds of maps, prints, and objects—all on D.C. history.

My day-to-day duties consist of working with researchers in our library to help them find the information they need. Whether they are writing a scholarly article or just bought a house and want to learn about its history and their new neighborhood, my job is to help facilitate their needs with what our library can offer. Another facet of my job is to know what the other repositories in the city have. If the Historical Society doesn’t have some piece of information, I want to know where I can direct them.

I love my job—I never do the same thing twice and each day I am learning more and more about this city, our collections, and our members. On any given day, I may meet members of our community and learn about their projects and passions, research a topic in our collection for a researcher working remotely, or help troubleshoot a long-shot research query that someone submits based on a decades-old memory. Every day is something new and every day is something interesting. The best part is when I can apply what I learn one day to a question we get the following week. That’s great. It makes you feel like you are making real headway into learning the complex history of a city like D.C.

Also, because we are a small institution with a big mission, my colleagues and I are expected to wear many hats. In addition to my librarian duties, I also participate in shaping our public programming and exhibitions; I conduct photo research for our publications; I digitize material and tackle rights assessment questions; and I track our library statistics. Each of these things are being juggled on a day-to-day basis, which can be demanding but also very fulfilling.

The Historical Society of Washington, D.C. is located in Washington's historic Carnegie Library, dedicated in 1903.

The Historical Society of Washington, D.C. is located in Washington’s historic Carnegie Library, dedicated in 1903.

JJ: It sounds like you are in a sweet-spot in terms of scale. Your institution is big enough to be doing important, interesting work but small enough that you have not gotten trapped in a specialist silo in which you do only one task over and over again.

Washington is such an incredible place for museums, libraries, and archives. What is it like to work in a small-but-old museum/library in a city of large-but-old museums/libraries? Do you feel connected with GLAM (Gallery, Library, Archives, and Museums) professionals around the city or, like many of our colleagues elsewhere, do the day-to-day demands of the job keep you from connecting to colleagues around the city?

JRS: I can’t speak for what it is like at other institutions, but I think we do a good job of collaborating with our fellow institutions in the city, particularly those with a local focus. The D.C. Public Library, National Archives, Library of Congress, National Building Museum, the newest Smithsonian, the National Museum of African American History and Culture—these are all institutions we work alongside and collaborate with in order to forward our mission of preserving local D.C. history.

As the Research Services Librarian, my daily duties are often intra-institution focused but I regularly refer our library patrons to other institutions around the city when we don’t have particular resources. While this means I don’t personally interact on a daily basis with my GLAM colleagues, there is mutual awareness of our work through referrals. At the Historical Society, our main collaboration with our GLAM colleagues is through joint public programming, from conference plenaries to archival fairs, workshops, exhibitions, etc.

JJ: I am especially glad to hear that you have not only pathways to connect with colleagues, but that your institution is well-situated enough to support, and to see the value in, outreach, research dissemination, and professional development activities like those you have just mentioned. One of my reasons for being interested in your connectedness to the cultural institutions of DC is that you were trained at the MA level there, at George Washington University. That institution has a unique advantage in that it trains students in a city with so many public collections and so many collections-oriented professionals. Before we turn to your undergraduate experiences at Indiana, could you describe your graduate studies? What did you study? What role did hands-on work play in your career? Read more

Thank You @iupress for a Great Material Vernaculars Reception at #afsam16

A quick note to convey appreciation for the great staff of the Indiana University Press, especially the work of the press staff who attended the 2016 American Folklore Society meetings in Miami. It was clear that the press had a great meeting. They brought mountains of new books and were wiped out. They also announced a lot of forthcoming titles and clearly were talking to a lot of scholars about their work. One highlight for me was a tremendous reception sponsored by the press in celebration of the Material Vernaculars series that the press co-publishes with the Mathers Museum of World Cultures and that I edit. The reception attracted a huge crowd and the food and drinks that IU Press so kindly provided were first rate. Thanks to IU Press and to all who came to the reception. Thanks to all who purchased copies of the first two Material Vernaculars titles. Your endorsement is very encouraging.

The Free-to-Readers Edition of Material Vernaculars: Objects, Images, and Their Social Worlds

As I discussed in a previous post, works in the Material Vernaculars series are being made available in a free-to-readers PDF edition via IUScholarWorks. The eponymous edited collection Material Vernaculars: Objects, Images, and Their Social Worlds was posted today and you can find it here: http://hdl.handle.net/2022/20925

If you think that high quality open and/or free access editions of scholarly monographs are a good thing, and if you have the means to do so, I urge you to purchase copies of the companion print or ebook editions as a way of supporting the cause and subsidizing the access of others, including those who cannot otherwise afford to obtain the book. If you really want to make a difference, consider donating to the not-for-profit publishers and libraries behind such efforts. In our case, you can contribute to the Indiana University Press (co-publisher of the Material Vernaculars series with the Mathers Museum of World Cultures) here: http://www.iupress.indiana.edu/pages.php?CDpath=12

Here is a screen shot showing you where to click to download Material Vernaculars. The image should link to the page in IUScholarWorks where the book is found. (The link is given above as well.)

slide1Happy reading!

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