Realia

DEFINITION

Material culture, or objects from real life, in contrast to those objects typically included in a collection. A piece of realia draws attention either because it is a common example of its kind (as an exemplum rather than as an exemplar) or because of associations with its previous owner. Some such objects might also be described as artifacts, ephemera, bric-a-brac, gewgaws, found objects, or memorabilia, but they are seldom prized for any qualities of their design, for their fine materials, or for the craftsmanship with which they were made.Realia includes objects used by educators to help students to understand other cultures and real life situations. A teacher of a foreign language employs realia to strengthen students' associations between words for everyday objects and the objects themselves. Examples might include an apple, a shoe, a menu, a fork, a door, etc.A library is more likely to prize realia for its associations with writers, subjects, or themes in the library's collection of media. The library at Yale prizes Eugene O'Neill's lighter, while Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's golf clubs gather dust at the U of Texas. The Bertrand Russell Archive at the McMaster U in Ontario hangs on to two Vietnam-era cluster bombs, deactivated but genuine. Such realia is akin to relics, memorabilia, and souvenirs. (What bookman wouldn't be thrilled to accession Ernest Hemingway's fishing rod or William Shakespeare's eraser! [Do you suppose he had one?!])There is no singular form for this word, because realia refers to a group of or classification of things.(pr. rə-YA-lee-ə)ArtLex has yet to find citations of this term used by art writers, art gallery or museum staff. There are many citations of its use by librarians and educators.Quote: "These unanticipated acquisitions are referred to in the trade [by librarians] variously as personal effects, ephemera, artifacts, memorabilia, and perhaps most evocatively, realia." Lev Grossman, "Catalog This: Dante's dust, Poe's hair, Taft's underwear. Oh, my, what's a librarian to do?" April 14, 2002, New York Times, Education Life section, page 26.Examples: The Subtly-Askew Museum was founded, we are told, by Dr. V. S. Subtly-Askew, H.M., T.E., in 1872. It is the repository for objects about which the curators ? Mrs. Helen Vaughan and Mr. Toppel Zemova (aliases for David Cody, English professor, Hartwick College, Oneonta, NY) ? make incredible claims ? for the thirty-three objects' actual involvement in various reknowned literary creations. Rather than realia, these might better be called unrealia! see thumbnail to rightA fragment of pink ribbon is described as "late seventeenth-century, place of manufacture unknown. Discovered in the forest near Salem Village, Massachusetts." [thanks to Nathaniel Hawthorne!]see thumbnail to leftThese are the two blades of grass that "made a musing poet think of opening his barbaric yawp." [Walt Whitman] A clay pipe was the one puffed by [Washington Irving's] Rip Van Winkle. A harpoon was once embedded in a certain White Whale" [Melville's Moby Dick!]. See absurd. Also see archetype, description, kitsch, memorabilia, memory, provenance, readymade, and simulation.

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