Date of Award
Master of Science
William W Wood
Patricia Richards, Dawn Scher Thomae
German Silver, Museum Collecting, Object biographies, Personal Adornment
This thesis explores the social lives of Woodland silver and German silver brooches
beginning in the late 18th century up to the present day using examples from the collections at the
Milwaukee Public Museum. As a popular trade item introduced by Europeans, silver brooches
provided a new medium for personal adornment in North American indigenous communities
throughout the Woodland region. Brooches were fastened on clothing as singular items and
occasionally worn in the hundreds to display wealth, status, and other aspects of identity. The
majority of brooches used for this project originate from Canada, New York, and Wisconsin.
Also included are brooches collected from Mexico and contemporary examples from Rhode
A biographical approach is adopted in order to consider the social lives of Woodland
German silver brooches. This project relies on Alfred Gell’s (1998) concept of the secondary
agency of material culture in order to investigate how brooches functioned as social actors
throughout the course of their life trajectories. The social function of brooches, from active
trading partners in the Fur Trade to their transition into hybrid identities intended to mediate
social landscapes, is elaborated and explored. Additionally, how brooches functioned from the
mid-19th century through the museum age of collecting and the re-emergence of indigenous silversmithing is discussed. Evidence is provided to argue that when worn, brooches were used by primary human actors as vehicles to assert aspects of individual and collective identities in order to influence the social contexts in which they operated in.
Pagel, Victoria Catherine, "Fluid Functionality: an Examination of Shifting Identities Using North American Indian German Silver Brooches at the Milwaukee Public Museum as a Case Study" (2018). Theses and Dissertations. 1891.