Whereas literary and cultural historians are interested in how early modern English culture was represented and perceived, historians of material culture are concerned with how it functioned and was experienced. Much can be learned from the study of the physical artifacts and goods described in inventories; only hard evidence can challenge and constrain economic and cultural determinism. The empirical evidence, however, has its own limitations, and only cultural theory can interpret the symbolic meaning of things. The effectiveness of each method increases when both are combined.

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