By comparing material culture to written documents, students can access how the reality of lives compared to the “ideal” set forth in religious tracts.
Early American and Atlantic World sermons and religious often present the ideal that religious communities sought to achieve rather than the lived reality of a community. Indeed, more than one scholar has noted that if early Americans preached against a vice (or in favor of a virtue), it was likely that vice was being practiced or the virtue was in need of practicing. Likewise later philosophical writings such as Isaac de Pinto’s “An Essay on Luxury” (Amsterdam, 1762) suggested “how” people should live, rather than necessarily accurately reflecting everyday life. By looking at houses from the era (including de Pinto’s own home!), students can help see why writers had the concerns they expressed.