Re-Orienting Ourselves in a Knowledge Economy: Reflections on a Victorian Era Trade Card Collection
Ephemera are treasures of material culture that provide clues to our past, and so are artifacts that can contribute to what Foucault referred to as an “archaeology of knowledge” that give us a glimpse of “the order of things.” Tradecards, forerunners of American business cards, were often post-card sized advertisements for newly-manufactured goods or products for sale, or services made available to the public. In addition to offering specific information about particular businesses and industries, the cards also communicate, visually, contextualization clues of cultural “norms” and social “interactions” within and between cultures. The trade cards as visual representations of daily life in a by-gone era illustrate (quite viscerally at times) interactions of class, gender, race and ethnicity, analysis of which can offer insights into perceptions, realities and stereotypes that were shaped by the domestic and foreign policies of the times..
Keywords: Material Culture, Visual Communications, Knowledge Economy, “Post-industrial” Societies
M. Jenna Musket
Adjunct Professor, Social Sciences, School of Liberal Arts, Philadelphia University