Thoughts on Culture – pt.2 – Meaning in the Message

The following is a very rough reflection on some of the ideas which I am working with in a greater Master’s Thesis project. I welcome constructive feedback and thoughts, so please leave a comment if you have something interesting to say or have any good questions.

Within the context of my Thesis work, I am attempting to understand the nature and relationship of “culture” and the material. As a starting premise I would suggest that (select) construction projects of the NSDAP reflect the regime’s unique understanding of its own place within a broader historical framework, as well as the bearer of a unique and perceivable “culture”. My end goal here is to suggest that the structures created or proposed by the NSDAP imply that the National Socialists had a specific understanding of their own place in history, a history which itself was interpreted uniquely by the regime, and that through the construction of these structures there was an attempt to bridge the gap between the current regime and future iterations of itself. My project looks at the structures as architectural works within the context of the early-mid 20th century, the concept of future and the means by which ideas are transmitted though time, and the messages that are transmittable through mediums/time. It is on this last point that I am currently absorbed.

An Info Panel, Nuremberg, Germany.

An Info Panel, Nuremberg, Germany.

For my work, I am looking to better understand and explain the concept of cultural transmission via material mediums. To do this, we can (for this thought) presuppose that buildings can transmit or store ideas/messages. What I am interested in is the form in which these messages are imbued and then received, the traits and general ideas that make up the message. I seek to go beyond the obvious here, I am not suggesting that a building can have a message carved on its surface which directly records a message in text or image, or some other tangible means. I am looking for the ways in which a structure captures an idea in its very essence and is able to express this idea to an audience that is not comprised of its direct creators (By this I mean, the receivers of the message are not those who implanted the message originally, but they may share ideological or historical similarities with the message’s progenitors). This series of ideas/messages I am considering to constitute “culture”.

So finally we get to the point of this post, to determine if we can consider this transmission as “culture”, and what that implies.

This problem is one I have touched upon in my previous post, the issue of defining “culture” for my own uses. Perhaps, then, I should attempt to pin-down some of the thoughts that I consider to make up “culture”, or at least what I consider to be important for the sake of this particular argument.

If we consider the definition of culture which describes it as, “All that which is nonbiological and socially transmitted in a society, including artistic, social, ideological, and religious patterns of behavior, and the techniques for mastering the environment” then we are left with something that is, perhaps, too all-encompassing and grand to really suit the needs of this project. With this understanding, that which composes culture is likely to overlap across many different cultures, possibly even to the point where cultures share almost every aspect, save a small number of traits, with each other. Are these, then, the identifiers for unique culture?

I’ll end with my question for the day:

Can culture be measured by the attributes it does not share with similar cultures?

As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts, please leave a comment. I don’t think I will answer questions or respond to comments directly, but I will most definitely take things into consideration as I continue to work through this.

Thanks for reading,

– Alex

Yay Discussion!

As my title suggests I’m super happy that people I don’t know are interested enough to have a chat with me. My last post discussed my thoughts on the realm of public history and my own attitudes towards the general practice. But alas, I have forgotten something, or rather, I failed to give public history credit where it is due!

A chum of mine from school said something today that made me really think about the nature of public history and engaging the average person with history. How could I have overlooked this: discussion. She noted that museums and other public spaces (which I have, admittedly been quick to dismiss) are becoming more and more places where the public can engage in a dialogue about history. Why did this not occur to me? Perhaps I suffer from a draconian outlook on things. Either way this idea really struck a chord with me. Some museums offer the public a place to discuss their own thoughts and experiences with historians, and as my friend noted, they allow people to ask questions freely and without too heavy an influence. Spectacular! I am all for this. I still stand by my personal approach to history, but I’ve got to admit when I’ve been hasty. I may have just been swayed by public history a bit.

You may not have convinced me to abandon traditional history yet, but heck if you haven’t given me something to think about!

– Alex