Herman, Bernard L.
The Stolen House. Charlottesville and London: The University Press
of Virginia, 1992. 286 p. Extensive Notes, Sources, Index sections.
Photographs and drawings.
Historian and University
of Delaware Associate Professor Bernard Herman demonstrates the enormous potential
for using social history research to shed light on the lives and times of individuals
associated with an object or artifact. The center of the well-written
narrative Herman develops is a demolished late 18th-century Delaware house that
belonged to the orphans of Benjamin Christopher. In investigating and
researching the alleged destruction of the house by the orphan’s neighbor, guardian,
and stepfather John Jacobs, Herman uncovers larger social issues surrounding
the structure. Herman is most concerned with demonstrating how artifacts
are important for what they signify about the complex social relationships of
their users. The author does an outstanding job of highlighting how material
culture is interactive rather than passive, and the usefulness of “reconnecting
objects to their historical contexts.” Stolen House contains six
chapters which explore issues surrounding the objectification of artifacts associated
with Christopher, perceptions of his plantation in the context of the wilderness,
the natural world and agriculture, his property’s fencelines, the architecture
of the house itself, and the legalities of the court case involving the house.
Herman uses extensive sources in documenting his work, including probate and
land records, census data, court records, and tax lists. This book is
highly recommended to anyone with an interest in history and architecture, and
will be particularly useful to scholars engaged involved in interpreting material
culture. [J. Kille]