Because certain types of material culture (such as gravestones) are available for a large percent of an entire community, they provide an easy way to track changes in a community over time.
If material culture reflects “belief systems–the values, ideas, attitudes, and assumptions–of a particular community or society” (Schlereth 3), by looking to how material culture has changed over time within a community, we can better understand religious change. Seriation studies of gravestones have long been a popular way of understanding changes in New England Protestantism. Recently scholars such as Aviva ben-Ur, Rachel Frankel, Wieke Vink, and myself have begun to look at how changes in Jewish cemeteries might reflect shifts in early American Judaism.
The download tool in the database provides students with an easy way to begin a seriation study. For more examples of how people have used seriation studies in the classroom, see Dean Eastman’s “Tiptoeing through the Tombstones.” Whereas Eastman’s study relies on students having access to colonial cemeteries, some of the sample lesson plans on this site allow students to do seriation studies of colonial cemeteries using the digitized resources in the Jewish Atlantic World Database instead.