What is material culture?

Material culture is the expression of culture. It is the physical objects of a culture, such as tools, domestic objects, religious objects, works of art, including visual, literary, and performative art. 

Resources at Harvard

Stuart Cary Welch Islamic and South Asian photograph collection

Photographs by Stuart Cary Welch used for teaching, lecturing and research to document illustrated manuscripts, portrait paintings and drawings, figure sketches, decorative arts, and architecture, mostly from Islamic and South Asian cultures in North Africa, Turkey, Iraq, Iran, Central Asia, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Nepal. The art and architecture depicted in the images represent the Ottoman Empire in Turkey, the Safavid Empire in Iran, and the Mughal Empire and regional Hindu kingdoms in India.

Harvard Art Museums

The Fogg Museum, Busch-Reisinger Museum, and Arthur M. Sackler Museum together form the Harvard Art Museums. The Fogg Museum is known for its collection of Western paintings, sculpture, decorative arts, photographs, prints, and drawings from the Middle Ages to the present, particularly its collections of Italian Renaissance, British Pre-Raphaelite, 19th century French art, and 19th- and 20th-century American paintings and drawings. The Busch–Reisinger Museum is the only museum in North America dedicated to the study of art from the German-speaking countries of Central and Northern Europe in all media and in all periods. The Arthur M. Sackler Museum has collections of Asian, ancient Mediterranean, Byzantine, and Islamic art. 

South Asian Museum Collections

Partition Museum of Amritsar

The Partition of India was one of the most defining events in the history of the subcontinent. It remains the largest mass migration in human history. Despite the extensive loss to life and property, almost 70 years later no museum or memorial existed to remember those millions. Opening its doors on 17 August 2017, the world's first Partition museum documents and remembers the history of the people impacted at the time of the 1947 Partition of British India.

Databases for South Asian Visual Arts

Arts institutions have both collections of material culture and accompanying libraries, usually open to the public, with research on the material culture held in the institution's collection. Museums also have institutional archives, which can be mines of information.

ABIA: Index of South and Southeast Asian Art and Archaeology

ABIA is an academic bibliography dedicated to South and Southeast Asian prehistory, archaeology of the historical period, art, crafts and architecture (from early down to contemporary), inscriptions and palaeography, coins and seals of these regions. This bibliography goes back to 1928 and is updated on an ongoing basis.


ARTstor is a not-for-profit organization funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation whose purpose is to develop a database of digital images and accompanying scholarly information for use in art history and other humanistic fields of learning, including the related social sciences. The ARTstor Digital Library includes approximately 300,000 images covering art, architecture and archeology. It is a database of curated collections of art images and associated data covering many time periods and cultures, and documenting the fields of architecture, painting, sculpture, photography, decorative arts, and design, as well as many other forms of visual culture.

Berg Fashion Library

Provides integrated text and image content on world dress and fashion throughout history. Offers fully cross-searchable access to an expanding range of Berg content collections, including the Encyclopedia of world dress and fashion, e-books, e-journals, museum directory, reference works, images, and more. Browsable by time (1600 to date) and by place (click on world map).

Bridgeman Art Library

Bridgeman Art Library offers keyword searching and display of its collection of over 350,000 art images from more than 8,000 major international museums, galleries, auction houses, and other collections.

Digital South Asia Library: Image Collections Online


Harvard Digital Collections

Harvard University Library Digital Collections showcases selected digital image collections created from unique Harvard Library holdings across a broad range of disciplines and cultural history worldwide.


HOLLIS Images is the Harvard Library's dedicated image catalog. It includes content from archives, museums, libraries, and other collections throughout Harvard University. To date, only a portion of Harvard’s visual resources are described herein.

Oxford Art Online

Oxford Art Online brings together Grove Art Online, Oxford Companion to Western Art, Encyclopedia of Aesthetics, and Concise Oxford Dictionary of Art Terms, and the Benezit Dictionary of Artists. With nearly 149,000 entries, Benezit is distinguished by its coverage of both lesser-known and famed artists, images of artists’ signatures, historical auction records, and lists of museum holdings.

BBC Archive

The BBC has a vast archive of records, recordings, music, photographs, and artifacts.