The William and Mary Quarterly: The Material and Social Practices of Intellectual Work: Jonathan Edwards’s Study

By examining the objects in the room(s) that comprised the study of Jonathan Edwards, the eighteenth-century preacher, revivalist, and theologian, we can see the material world of an intellectual through the means by which he forged, preserved, and communicated ideas. We can also see the products of his labors through a new perspective, that of material and visual studies. The books he acquired, the writing implements, the homemade notebooks and hand-stitched manuscripts, and the customized furniture he utilized all helped to shape the texts Edwards left behind. He largely fabricated the environment in which he worked and the tools he employed, using technologies at his disposal in his provincial setting. An examination of a writer’s study, such as Edwards’s, does not only reveal the work habits and compositional methods by which that writer operated. A close study of the objects in the room(s), and how they changed over time, allows a reconstruction of the ways that social and material practices contributed to intellectual production.