Dovetails and Tenons: A Love Story, or My Summer with the Boston Furniture Archive Begins

This blog post is by Erica Lome, a student in the History of American Civilization Ph.D. program at the University of Delaware. This fall, she will be a Graduate Assistant at Nemours Mansion & Gardens. You can find her at http://ericalome.com/

Walking into an eighteenth-century house to find three women with their legs sticking out from halfway underneath a sofa makes for an interesting sight. For me, it’s all part of a day’s work. This summer, I’m joined by three other young historians as a member of the Boston Furniture Archive. We will assess, catalogue, and photograph objects from historic institutions throughout the greater Boston area.

The Boston Furniture Archive (BFA) is an extension of the Four Centuries of Massachusetts Furniture project (organized and operated by the Winterthur Museum), which seeks to explore and celebrate furniture-making in the Bay State. As part of our summer’s duties, we’ve been trained to examine objects ranging from Windsor chairs to high chests. Already in its third year, this is an extensive and ongoing cataloguing project that will benefit scholars of material culture in untold ways.

Before we could even begin, I joined my BFA cohort in Boston for a week-and-a-half-long training session held at various institutions hosted by some of the leading experts in the field. At the Trustees of Reservations, Broke Jobe (who, with others, literally wrote the book on southeastern Massachusetts furniture) took us through a decorative arts boot camp. We learned about handling furniture and conservation practices at Historic New England with Senior Conservator Alex Carlisle and Senior Curator Nancy Carlisle.

Care and handling of objects at Historic New England

Care and handling of objects at Historic New England

At the North Bennett Street School, Winterthur’s Gregory Landry and furniture-maker Steve Brown taught us all about craftsmanship and wood identification (one of the trickiest aspects of cataloguing by far).

Cabinetmaking samples at the North Bennett Street School, one of the oldest trade schools in America

Cabinetmaking samples at the North Bennett Street School, one of the oldest trade schools in America

And, finally, at the Golden Ball Tavern Museum in Weston, we had the opportunity to learn professional photography and photoshop techniques so that anyone can access the best quality images and information about the furniture they seek on the BFA’s online database: http://content.winterthur.org:2011/cdm/home/collection/bostonfurn.

Practicing our photography skills on a Queen Anne chair

Practicing our photography skills on a Queen Anne chair

After that week of intense hands-on training, we were pumped and ready to get on the road! Our first stop was the Spooner House (c.1743) at the Plymouth Antiquarian Society in Plymouth, MA. Right up the road from Plymouth Rock, this lovely historic property features objects descended directly from its original eighteenth-century occupants. Happily, we were welcomed by Am Civ alum Anne Reilly, now the executive director of the Plymouth Antiquarian Society!

Our journey begins at the Spooner House!

Our journey begins at the Spooner House!

Our first day was a real eye-opener: thinking we could breeze through catalogue sheets that were as long as eleven pages, we soon learned the challenges of looking at furniture with a critical gaze. Using wood samples, UV flashlights and magnifying glasses, we first looked at every panel, leg, and frame of a seemingly “simple” Federal card table to determine the primary and secondary woods. Often the answers eluded us–was that porous hardwood mahogany? Or walnut? What about the figured veneers–might it be burled maple? Another crucial component was the means of construction, and whether the piece was handcrafted or machine-made.

The indispensable wood sample box, helping for learning wood types

The indispensable wood sample box, helping for learning wood types, which is part of our cataloguing kit

Certain things are dead giveaways to the former or latter, such as nail shape and size, saw marks, and joinery techniques. Of course, there’s also the style of a piece. Inlays, banding, and therm legs (or squared, tapered legs) certainly indicate the card table was from the Federal Period (1790-1815), but we might encounter revival styles in the future–or even reproductions!

Learning construction techniques at the North Bennett Street School

Learning construction techniques at the North Bennett Street School

Most importantly, our mission is to contribute to Boston’s furniture-making history. It’s been pointed out to us time and time again how little research and scholarship exists for this subject, as most furniture after the eighteenth century is attributed to New York or Philadelphia. The work we do this summer, at places like the Bostonian Society, Gibson House Museum, and New England Historic Genealogical Society, provides much-needed materials for historians of material culture in their ongoing and future projects. My own research examines how historical memory, craftsmanship, and American culture intersect and inform one another, and the benefits of having a resource like the Boston Furniture Archive are not to be underestimated. So often, our education in material culture comes from books, or museums, or the archives. Actually being able to handle furniture and comprehend their design and construction goes a long way towards enriching one’s education.

Furniture historians in their natural habitat!

Furniture historians in their natural habitat!

We have a busy summer ahead of us, and I hope to update the Am Civ blog as we make progress!

About the Author: Erica Lome is a student in the History of American Civilization Ph.D. program at the University of Delaware. This fall, she will be a Graduate Assistant at Nemours Mansion & Gardens. You can find her at http://ericalome.com/

The Inner Workings of the World of Book Collecting at the Mark Samuels Lasner Collection

This blog post is by Alexander Ames, Ph.D. student in the History of American Civilization Program at the University of Delaware.

In a nondescript corner of the University of Delaware’s Morris Library sits one of the greatest private collections of Victorian British books, manuscripts, and artworks in the world: the Mark Samuels Lasner Collection. Every year, the Collection employs a graduate assistant to assist with the day-to-day responsibilities of managing a significant rare book collection.  During academic year 2015/2016, I had the honor of working in this capacity.  The experience proved to be a valuable complement to my doctoral studies in the History of American Civilization doctoral program at UD.

The Mark Samuels Lasner Collection, on loan to the University of Delaware Library, is an internationally renowned repository for the study of late-nineteenth-century British art, literature, and culture. The Collection focuses on the period 1850 to 1900, with an emphasis on the Pre-Raphaelites and on the writers and illustrators of the 1890s. Its holdings comprise over 9,000 first and other editions (including many signed and association copies), manuscripts, letters, works on paper, and ephemera.  While rich in works of some of the most famous authors, printers and visual artists of the late Victorian period, including Oscar Wilde, William Morris, and Dante Gabriel Rossetti, the Collection possesses tremendous breadth and depth, allowing researchers to explore the cultural contributions of lesser-known figures who occupied the same circles as the Victorian age’s most famous men and women.

William Morris’s The Works of Geoffrey Chaucer Now Newly Printed, commonly called the Kelmscott Chaucer and printed at Morris’s Kelmscott Press in 1896. The book is seen here in a slipcover made in the early twentieth century from William Morris fabric.

William Morris’s The Works of Geoffrey Chaucer Now Newly Printed, commonly called the Kelmscott Chaucer and printed at Morris’s Kelmscott Press in 1896. The book is seen here in a slipcover made in the early twentieth century from William Morris fabric.

Why would a doctoral student in early American history and material culture wish to spend a year immersed in the decadent world of the late Victorians?  The answer is simple: I hope to pursue a career in a library or archival environment, and work in the Mark Samuels Lasner Collection offered an unparalleled opportunity to learn about the inner workings of the world of book collecting.  After nine months in the Collection, I feel well-versed in the ways of the book collector and have gained valuable experience in library tasks such as cataloguing, analog and online exhibitions development, reference work, and reading room supervision.

The most exciting part of the assistantship, however, was doubtless observing and participating in the acquisition of new materials for the Collection. The landmark acquisition of the year was a rare, inscribed copy of William Morris’s The Works of Geoffrey Chaucer Now Newly Printed, commonly called the Kelmscott Chaucer and printed at Morris’s Kelmscott Press in 1896.

William Morris’s inscription of the Kelmscott Chaucer to Robert Catterson-Smith, who, together with Edward Burne-Jones, created illustrations for the book.

William Morris’s inscription of the Kelmscott Chaucer to Robert Catterson-Smith, who, together with Edward Burne-Jones, created illustrations for the book.

After it arrived at the UD Library, Mark Samuels Lasner and I drove the book to Manhattan for a welcoming party at The Grolier Club, a bibliophilic organization where the Chaucer was placed on display for an evening for members to study and enjoy.

The Kelmscott Chaucer on display at The Grolier Club, New York City, March 24, 2016.

The Kelmscott Chaucer on display at The Grolier Club, New York City, March 24, 2016.

Another important acquisition was a collection of paintings by British feminist Barbara Leigh Smith Bodichon, a nearly-forgotten radical who was influenced by the Pre-Raphaelites.  Bodichon’s legacy will live on in the UD Library because of this acquisition.

Barbara Leigh Smith Bodichon (1827-1891), The Gatehouse at Michelhaml Priory, ca. 1850. Watercolor on paper, 25 x 30 cm.

Barbara Leigh Smith Bodichon (1827-1891), The Gatehouse at Michelhaml Priory, ca. 1850. Watercolor on paper, 25 x 30 cm.

I feel deeply grateful to have matriculated in a doctoral program that encourages students to acquire practical museum and library skills while developing scholarly research expertise in fields related to American material culture.  I am also incredibly thankful to Mark Samuels Lasner and all at the UD Library for working with me over the last academic year as I honed my collections-based career interests.  For more information about the Mark Samuels Lasner Collection, visit http://library.udel.edu/spec/collections/msl/.

About the Author: Alexander Ames is a student in the History of American Civilization Ph.D. program at the University of Delaware and a member of the Grolier Club in New York City. He plans to write a dissertation about Pennsylvania German calligraphy and manuscript illumination practices between ca. 1750 and 1850. He tweets @Alex_L_Ames.

Change Over Time

Watching intently as the workshop leaders shuffled hot embers from the front to the back of the hearth at an introductory hearth cooking workshop I took at Landis Valley Village & Farm Museum yesterday, I wondered whether I would have a chance to probe and prod meat again as it simmered and stewed over the fire. The first time I wielded a spatula was earlier that morning when I was directed to flip the meatballs. After accomplishing that mission, I stepped back to help chop and mix up turnips, onions, parsley, and butter. Lots of butter.

Nicole flipping meatballs over an open hearth (a 1930s-era reconstruction) at Landis Valley, February 2015

Nicole flipping meatballs over an open hearth (a 1930s-era reconstruction) at Landis Valley, February 2015

As a historian of the material culture of everyday life of early America, I spend a lot of time in museum collections and archives. As a result, I know how all this stuff works in theory. I’ve read countless historic recipes and walked past more hearths in historic houses (usually over-accessorized) that I can count. I’ve also seen cooking over a fire demonstrated in a variety of reputable historic sites and houses.

I love my work.

But I registered for the workshop to expand how I learn about and interpret the past. In other words, to bring my interpretative powers up to the next level, I knew I needed to get some time in front of the fire and to dedicate more time overall doing living history. When I say “living history,” I mean what museum and cultural heritage professionals refer to as practicing or enacting activities of the past (such as sewing, fighting, or just passing time at home), often wearing clothing from that period also. Some better-known historic sites that incorporate living history into their visitor experience include Colonial Williamsburg and Plimoth Plantation, but there are plenty more fine examples out there. As living history professionals and hobbyists and experimental archaeologists (or any teacher, really) will tell you, doing is knowing. And I want to do more doing.

Why bother?

I wanted to learn if you really could cook a chicken over hot coals in time to have it for dinner (yes!) and how to manipulate the cooking equipment to make food cook faster or slower (it’s complicated).

Chicken garnished and ready to be eaten at Landis Valley Museum, February 2015

Chicken garnished and ready to be eaten at Landis Valley Museum, February 2015

But I also learned things that will add subtlety to my understanding of the past I probably could not have learned any other way. I learned, for instance, that when you bend over a pot you have to battle your own shadow to see inside whether the lamb is still red. I learned what food tastes like if you get it too close to the embers. I also learned why any sort of warming plate, tray, or cabinet you find in any number of museum collections would have been desirable given how darn cold once warm and toasty chicken gets if it’s been sitting to the side of the hearth while you’ve been baking potato rolls, sautéing mushrooms, and roasting pork-wrapped bacon in a tin reflector oven.

Roasting pork-wrapped bacon in a reflector over at Landis Valley, February 2015

Roasting pork-wrapped bacon in a reflector over at Landis Valley, February 2015

I did something! I know more now.

What I didn’t expect to learn was how much of a twenty-first century person I really am. But that’s exactly what happened. As I was minding the lamb in the small cauldron, flipping it periodically to sear it before we threw it into a pot with veggies to make a stew, I accidentally catapulted a chunk of lamb into the fiery embers.

My heart stopped.

“Oh, no!” I gasped with genuine worry as I watched the cube of lamb become a red fireball, indistinguishable from the surrounding coals.

I panicked, just like I do at home when I drop something on a stove burner. I looked around desperately for help. How would I get a burning piece of meat out of the fire? It’s going to smell terribly! Won’t it set off a fire alarm?

I was surprised that in the midst of my horror, everyone was standing calmly behind me. Most were chuckling.

Of course they were. We already have a fire. A big one. In the hearth. I wasn’t making it any worse.

“We’ll just scoop it up,” the Marsha Houston the instructor explained. “Don’t worry about it!”

Right. We’ll just scoop it up. Of course!

I apologized profusely. But I don’t think I was really apologizing for losing a nice piece of meat or even for Marsha having to move it aside. I think I was apologizing for caring so much. In this context, dropping a piece of meat onto a cooking surface wasn’t a big deal. In the space of just a few moments, I had found the gap between my pre-industrial self and my twenty-first century self. And it was a large one. Yes, doing is knowing.

Change over time was never so apparent.

Further Reading and Doing

There are lots of books that the history of domestic life and kitchens. I will list just one here that focuses on kitchen spaces. Nancy Carlisle and Melinda Talbot Nasardinov with Jennifer Pustz, America’s Kitchens (Boston: Historic New England, 2008).

Many museums and historic sites around the country host single- and multi-day hearth cooking workshops. See, for example, Old Sturbridge Village, Genesee Country Village and Museum, Historic Deerfield, and Old Salem Museum & Gardens. Investigate museums in your area and find your own adventure! If you’ve participated in a historic foldaways workshop you particularly liked, let me know.

You can also pay visits to many wonderfully intact historic kitchens at historic sites. In this area, check out The Woodlands in Philadelphia (circa 1786) or The George Read House and Gardens (1803-1805) in New Castle, Delaware. Do you have a favorite?

If you want to learn and talk about about historic foldaways with members from the Philadelphia region, follow Cliveden’s Kitchen Conversations programming.

About the author: Nicole Belolan is a Ph.D. Candidate in the History of American Civilization program at the University of Delaware. She is writing a dissertation about the material culture of physical disability in early America.This blog post was originally published at her professional web site. Nicole tweets @nicolebelolan.

Alumni Profile: Janneken Smucker

The History of American Civilization Program at the University of Delaware boasts many accomplished graduates currently working in a range of capacities at cultural heritage institutions and in academia. We sat down recently with Dr. Janneken Smucker (Am Civ ’10) to talk about what she’s been doing with her degree as an Assistant Professor of History at West Chester University. Here’s what she had to say.

Prof. Janneken Smucker, Am Civ '10 (Photo provided by Janneken Smucker)

Prof. Janneken Smucker, Am Civ ’10 (Photo provided by Janneken Smucker)

Am Civ: What attracted you to the University of Delaware’s History of American Civilization Program? What had you done before coming to UD?

Janneken: Before I applied to the History of American Civilization program at UD, I had earned my MA in Textile History/Quilt Studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, working with the International Quilt Study Center. I knew I wanted to continue to study objects, specifically quilts, but within broader contexts of consumer and visual culture. I sought a program in which my niche research interests would be taken seriously, where professors and other students would understand the merits of studying quilts. But I wanted comprehensive training in the field of American history to accompany my more narrow focus on material culture. UD’s AmCiv uniquely provides this.

Am Civ: Your dissertation, which you published as Amish Quilts: Crafting an American Icon with Johns Hopkins University Press in 2013, gives readers a scholarly yet accessible take on the production and consumption of Amish quilts in American culture. In your book’s introduction, you explain that you are a fifth-generation Mennonite quiltmaker. How would you say your experience making the things you study has informed your research?

Janneken: First of all, my hobby of making quilts inspired my interest in studying these objects. I didn’t even know the phrase “material culture,” but eventually figured out that I could combine quilts with my academic fields of History and Women’s Studies. Because I make quilts—or at least did when I wasn’t frantically juggling being an Assistant Professor and mother—I understand the process of making choices, adapting patterns, adding personal touches, while maintaining aspects of tradition. I knew that quiltmaking is both an individual act and a communal one, and one influenced by many other media and forms of consumer culture. I find understanding the process an essential part of studying these objects.

Am Civ: Before starting as a professor in the Department of History at West Chester University, you worked for Night Kitchen Interactive, a firm that works with museums and other cultural institutions on producing websites and other types of interactive experiences. Now, you teach courses in history as well as in digital humanities at West Chester University. How do you think digital tools enhance the study of the humanities among scholars and the public alike? 

Janneken: I am most interested in “public humanities” and how digital media and technologies can enhance public engagement with humanities content. New tools and platforms for disseminating historical and cultural content promote not just one-sided consumption of content, but participation and co-production of knowledge. Members of the public can share their own stories and perspectives, contribute by volunteering their own expertise through initiatives like Wikipedia, HistoryPin, and crowdsourced transcription projects. History should not be a conversation only among academics, but one that has relevancy to a broad public, and digital history helps make this possible.

Am Civ: What projects are you working on now?

Janneken: On campus I’ve been working with my colleague Professor Charles Hardy and students to create Goin’ North: Stories from the First Great Migration to Philadelphia. Our students created a digital archive of images and primary sources, detailed oral history indexes, and imaginative digital storytelling projects, which re-created the world southern newcomers encountered in early 20th-century Philadelphia. The Oral History Association named it the best non-print project of 2015, and we’re planning to expand the project, teaching the course again in Spring 2016.

In my own research, I am continuing to investigate the role of quilts in American culture, analyzing how New Deal era governmental programs including the Farm Security Administration and the Works Progress Administration drew on the symbolic power of quilts to help advance the nation’s economic recovery.

Am Civ: Do you have any words of wisdom for graduate students currently studying for advanced degrees in material culture studies?

Janneken: I encourage students to think imaginatively about what their futures may hold by taking risks and pursuing unforeseen opportunities. We tend to enter grad school with a distinct vision of a future career; but actual paths during and after grad school may lead in unexpected directions. I took a low-paying internship upon defending my dissertation, and this position led me to develop a whole new skill set in digital technologies, which I would have missed if I had stuck to a more conventional path.

Am Civ: Thanks again for taking the time to answer our questions, Janneken!

What’s a “bad thing”? Find out at the 13th-Annual Material Culture Symposium for Emerging Scholars

We are pleased to announce the schedule for Very Bad Things: Material Culture and Disobedience. This free Material Culture Symposium for Emerging Scholars will be held on Saturday, April 11, 2015, at the Winterthur Museum.

To register, please email emerging.scholars@gmail.com.

VERYBADTHINGSFINALVery Bad Things: Material Culture and Disobedience 

8:15 – Registration
8:45 – Welcome Remarks

9:00 – Session 1: Beneath the Surface

“Flying from What? Why, a Bit of Painted Wood”: A Cross-Disciplinary Analysis of Dummy Boards and Deception in Eighteenth-Century Philadelphia
Katie McKinney and Emily Wroczynski, Winterthur Program in American Material Culture and Winterthur Program in Art Conservation, University of Delaware

Under Pressure: The Material and Political Resistance of Mezzotints
Amy Torbert, Ph.D. Candidate, Department of Art History, University of Delaware

A Silver Brand: Slave Brands and Branding in the Early Modern Atlantic World
Erin Holmes, Ph.D Candidate, Department of History, University of South Carolina

Commentator: Catherine Dann Roeber, Development Officer, Major Gifts, Winterthur Museum, Garden, and Library

10:30 – Coffee Break

11:00 – Keynote Address
Auntie Steward
Speaker: Scott Herring, Associate Professor of English, Indiana University

12:00 – Lunch Break

1:00 – Session 2: The Inside Out/The Outside In

“It’s a Lone Thing – and I’m a Lone Thing”: Bad Currency and the Miser’s Economy in Silas Marner
Meg Dobbins, Ph.D. Candidate, English, Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, Washington University in St. Louis

Picturing the Black Home: The Visual and Material Culture of Nineteenth-Century African American Activism
Whitney Stewart, Ph.D. Candidate, Department of History, Rice University

A “Blight” and a “Nuisance”: Billboards, Spectaculars, and Outdoor Advertising in American Cities, 1900-1920
Craig Lee, Ph.D. Candidate, Department of Art History, University of Delaware

Commentator: Katherine Fama, NEH Research Fellow, Winterthur Museum, Garden, and Library

2:30 – Break

2:45 – Session 3: The Deviant Body

Overcoming a Sensational Icon: Ku Klux Klan Robes as Historical Evidence
Katherine Lennard, Ph.D. Candidate, Department of American Culture, University of Michigan

Dangerously Empowered by Iron: Basement Gyms and Excitement about Bodybuilding in the late USSR
Alexey Golubev, Ph.D. Candidate, Department of History, University of British Columbia

The Romanticization of Resistance: The Contradictions and Failures of the Zapatista Doll
Erin Sexton, American Studies Department, George Washington University

Grave Goods: The Disquieting Contents of Singaporean Burial Plots
Ruth E. Toulson, Andrew Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in the Humanities, Penn Humanities Forum/Department of Religious Studies, University of Pennsylvania

Commentator: Sandy Isenstadt, Professor, Department of Art History, University of Delaware

4:30 – Tours of Winterthur

To register, please email emerging.scholars@gmail.com.

Sailing and Sewing aboard the SSV Corwith Cramer

After spending six weeks aboard the SSV (Sailing School Vessel) Corwith Cramer, 23 days of which comprised our Atlantic crossing between Gran Canaria and Dominica, I’ve been finding it difficult to quantify all that I experienced and learned. I was aboard the Cramer as a guest “voyager,” a position that combined the roles of deckhand and visiting scholar. The Cramer is one of two ships operated by the Sea Education Association, an organization that runs semester-long programs for undergraduate students. Their voyages emphasize marine science, maritime skills, and cultural studies that vary based on changing cruise tracks.

I expected to learn about sail handling, knots, celestial navigation, the physical world of shipboard life, and how it feels to be out of sight of land for weeks at a time. And I did. But I also learned about meteorology, pelagic birds, and the “plastisphere” that develops around discarded plastics in the ocean. I worked on diesel engines, cooked for a crew of thirty, and examined the many tiny creatures that appeared in our net samples (including such bizarre animals as mesopelagic nudibranchs, phronima amphipods, and megalope). It was easy to get excited about such things because everyone on board was passionate about their field of study, be it engineering, history, sailing, or science. Conversations around the dinner table and on deck moved easily from tall ships to Caribbean politics to the physics of rainbows to the Lego movie. I shared a bit of my own passion in such informal conversations and in a presentation about material culture during one of our daily all-hands meetings.

I’m working on several reflective essays about my experience. In the mean time, I wanted to discuss what I worked on in spare moments between standing watch on the voyage: sewing and thinking about how and what sailors sewed at different points in history. During my time aboard the Cramer, I completed a reproduction of a sailor’s jacket recovered from the wreck site of the General Carleton, a British vessel that sank in 1785. Historians Lawrence Babits and Matthew Brenckle documented the jacket in a chapter of the archaeological report available here. You’ll forgive the anachronistic beard and glasses in the images below.

I wanted to sew on board the Cramer as a way of thinking about what it must have been like for sailors aboard earlier ships to make and repair their clothing amidst their many other duties. Shipboard life and labor meant sailors often wore peculiar styles of clothes, garments that distinguished them from other workers. Clothing still matters to sailors. Today’s professional tall ship sailors joke about looking like “schooner bums” when in port, and they can still recognize other sailors by the sorts of things they wear.

Ships, historically and today, are cramped places, and people are amazingly creative when they are looking for a place to work. On the Cramer, people played music, wrote in journals, read books, and crafted in their bunks, at the dinner tables in the main salon, on deck, on the “elephant table” (a seven-foot-high platform behind the foremast), and wedged into impossibly small places in the metal and wooden confines of our environment.

Today’s sailors, much like those of the past, sew out of necessity. I was surprised how often I saw people sewing on board, given that most people I meet on land are unable to sew at all. There are several explanations for why sailors sew. First, every crewmember has only a limited wardrobe and no recourse to a clothing store, so they have to repair damaged garments if they wanted to wear them again..

Clothing gets dirty and wears out quickly on board a ship. My own canvas pants, for example, looked like this after only a week’s wear:

We had no washing machines aboard the Cramer, and so crewmembers laundered clothing in the open air of the deck. On any given morning, a handful of people enjoying their time off watch could be found sitting on the foredeck around small piles of dirty clothes or pinning clean ones up to dry on a line. It’s amazing what you can do with two buckets, some soap, and your hands.

But there are other explanations for why people sew so much onboard ship besides functional ones. One afternoon, I watched as a sailor patched a pair of Hawaiian-print shorts on the quarterdeck. The cotton was hopelessly torn in multiple places, and several generations of stitches, sewn cloth patches, and adhesive sail patches covered portions of the seat and leg. But these were a favorite garment, and she had worn them through several voyages. Sailors often live and travel with far fewer belongings that most people on land, so some things take on substantial sentimental value.

Many of the crew and students on our voyage studied how plastics entered and impacted the world’s oceans, and they were especially conscious about the wasteful nature of American consumer culture. All contemporary ships have to be careful with how much waste they generate, because they must transport inorganic trash such as plastics until they find a suitable land depository. We were very careful on the Cramer about what we used and threw away. Crewmembers carefully repaired clothing at sea when such garments might have ended up at Goodwill or the dumpster on land.

Depictions of earlier sailors at work and descriptions of their personal effects often include small boxes containing sewing tools. Almost as soon as I began sewing aboard the Cramer, I wished I had brought more small containers. Sewing doesn’t take many tools, but even a pair of scissors, some thread, and few needles seems like a lot to keep track of when you don’t have much space your whole world is rolling back and forth. I was constantly losing pins, though thankfully all were found by eagle-eyed and patient shipmates, rather than in the soles of some poor sailor’s foot late at night.

The only sewing tool lacked aboard the Cramer was an iron. Historically, irons were just that – bars of iron heated in the coals of a fire or on a stove. I suspect most early sailing ships had one, and my inability to press sewn seams made my Carleton jacket visibly different from the original and other eighteenth-century garments I’ve examined. A talented shipmate was kind enough to make me a wooden seam rubber, a tool that presses linen seams using pressure rather than heat and steam, but it was ineffective in pressing woolen seamst. The most successful effort occurred when the steward, Nina, and I conspired to heat one of her cast-iron pans in our shipboard oven long enough to get it piping hot and use it as a make-do iron.

I had a file of research on the Carleton jacket and brought along all the supplies I would need to recreate it. Other sewing projects on board had less planning behind them. A few hours out of Dominica, we realized that our shipboard stores lacked the flag of that country. Typically, foreign ships visiting a port fly a “courtesy flag” as a gesture of respect to their host. With a small flag identification sheet as our guide, several of us went to work cutting up spare bed sheets and old t-shirts, assembling them into a one-sided rendition of the Dominican flag.

Sailing, I learned, is about teamwork. Moving a ship across an ocean requires you to work with the people who happen to be your shipmates. That was true in 1492, and it’s true today. The Sea Education Association’s motto reminds crewmembers how they should arrange their priorities while on board: “Ship, Shipmate, Self.” You arrive on a ship as strangers, and suddenly you are surrounded by the same small group of people without interruption for weeks at a time. You learn about your shipmates’ idiosyncrasies, and you put up with their flaws in part because you have no other choice. But more importantly, these people, your shipmates, put up with your own failings. You pick up each others’ slack. “Every time you feel like you’re pulling more than your own weight,” our chief mate told us early in the voyage, “That’s good. Because whenever you don’t feel that way, someone else does.”

Teamwork is hard work. Working and living together aboard a ship or otherwise can leave people embittered and unfriendly. But sometimes, the unpredictable chemistry of a crew produces a splendid result. The most valuable thing I learned while sailing aboard the Corwith Cramer had less to do with history, biology, metereology, or navigation. I learned that when you surround yourself with good people, anything seems possible. I did much less sewing on personal projects than I expected. But I’m most proud of a project I hadn’t planned, that Dominica flag. Where else could you find half a dozen people, most of whom had never sewn a stitch in their lives, ready to drop what they were doing, chop up old rags, and assemble a flag at a moment’s notice, all the time smiling? The result, like a good crew, sometimes looks ragged up-close, but when you step back and let the wind do its work, it is something quite beautiful.

About the author: Tyler Rudd Putman is a Ph.D. student in the History of American Civilization program at the University of Delaware. In 2014, he sailed aboard the Charles W. Morgan‘s “38th Voyage” and aboard the SSV Corwith Cramer during a transatlantic crossing from the Canary Islands to the Caribbean. His research interests include material culture, historical archaeology, and military history. You can read more about his work on his website, here, and his blog, here.

“Rub Bread on Your Walls,” and Other Advice I’ve Received from Early America

Long before the DIYers at Pinterest promised 101 natural household cleaners to simplify our lives, before Gwyneth Paltrow and Blake Lively offered us tips on “life curation” that involved making heirloom tomato sauce and purchasing $1300 Pendleton wool cloaks, even before Martha Stewart created her first paper Christmas tree skirt and declared it a “good thing”, early Anglo-American advice writers instructed their readers on how to live frugal, healthy, and “beautiful” lives. Like the followers of today’s lifestyle gurus, early American readers purchased advice books on household management and new types of cookery with the hope of making their lives simpler. And like anyone today who has tried to replicate a craft project they saw on Pinterest or made Gwyneth’s Quinoa stuffed Kabocha, these early Americans probably realized they were buying a certain amount of hogwash.

Scholars hesitate to rely on prescriptive literature in their research because, as the name suggests, it was often aspirational, prescribing behaviors, practices, and material goods that the author believed would refine society—and which were missing from the majority of  early American households. Although authors advertised their books as a necessity for every family, the advice they contained was geared towards the wealthier members of society. Advice written by a pseudonymous “Lady” or “Society of Gentlemen” encouraged the mistress of the household to mix her own silver polish, repair gold lace on gowns, or mend broken porcelain, ignoring the fact that the reader may not even own such luxuries, and if she did, would depend on her servants to care for them. The advice books assumed a level of affluence that was uncommon in most early American households. And unlike today, where those with the most money and leisure time are the primary audience for the DIY projects promoted by Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop and Blake Lively’s Preserve, the leisured classes of early America usually occupied a supervisory role in household labor, directing the efforts of their servants to cook, make, and mend.

The Universal Receipt Book, 1814.

The advice contained within these books falls within several different categories. A substantial portion of the literature focuses on how to create imitations of popular consumer goods within the home, particularly popular patent medicines and elixirs. Other sections describe how to increase the durability of household goods, such as preventing rust on cutlery, preserving blankets from moths, and removing spots from woolen clothing. A surprising amount of advice centers on the use of household objects to deceive people and how to judge consumer goods so as not to be duped by others. Nearly every book I’ve encountered from the late 18th and early 19th centuries includes instructions on how to make cheaper woods look like mahogany, disguise brass as gold, or dress flax so it resembles silk. The same literature, however, reflects a fear of being deceived about the value of goods by others. Authors advise readers on how to detect adulteration in soap, gin, flour, and other items so they would not be poisoned or simply cheated out of their hard-earned money. Recipes for renovating rancid butter appear alongside methods for determining whether or not flour had been adulterated with no apparent sense of irony. Such recipes not only speak to people’s anxieties about misjudging new consumer goods, but also fears of being (accurately?) judged as poor and uncultured. These books may reflect more to people’s anxieties than their actual practices.

With such a scattershot approach to dispensing advice and poorly conceived ideas about its potential audience, is there anything useful to be gleaned from this literature? I would argue that for scholars of material culture, there is much to uncover. My current research focuses in part on how early Americans purchased, maintained, repaired, and lived with consumer goods. While some information on these practices can be deduced from period diaries, letters, probate inventories, and other sources (which all present their own unique challenges and limitations), aspirational literature maps out the constellation of goods familiar to consumers, even if some were beyond the reach of most people. It suggests that consumers sought advice about how to care for their new goods, that they sometimes sought substitutes for goods that were beyond their means, and that they could be suspicious of the quality of goods imported from beyond their town, region, or nation. And while most people didn’t employ the exact advice promoted in these books, they could adapt it to fit their own needs. Similarly, just because I don’t have an outdoor pizza oven in my garden like Gwyneth Paltrow, doesn’t mean I can’t try her recipes in my own, more limited, kitchen.

I'm onto you, Gwyneth.

I’m onto you, Gwyneth.

So, was anybody following these recipes and advice? At least a few were. Many advice books contain newspaper clippings for recipes and remedies for illnesses that suggest readers were using them as repositories of knowledge. An elusive hand-scrawled note may comment on a particular entry’s efficacy. Very occasionally other sources corroborate this prescriptive evidence. In her diary from December 1769, Hannah Callender Sansom described purchasing and mixing the ingredients for Daffy’s Elixir before spending the rest of the day mending. Daffy’s Elixir was a popular patent medicine composed of senna, brandy, fennel seeds and other ingredients that was first developed in late 17th century-England and used to treat a variety of stomach ailments. Its popularity is confirmed by the fact that a recipe for “true Daffy’s Elixir” is included in numerous books on cookery and domestic management from the period. While Sansom may not have obtained her recipe for one of these sources, she was relying on her DIY knowledge to produce the elixir rather than purchasing it at the store.

True Daffy's Elixir

True Daffy’s Elixir

Although the Daffy’s Elixir recipes may have been successful, most other advice from prescriptive literature was probably hokum, the 19th-century equivalent of those “burn belly fat with this one weird trick…” ads on websites. A book from 1818 recommended repairing your broken china with a mixture of quicklime and Stilton cheese; the same book later noted that garlic juice created a good cement to mend broken dishes and glass. Other than making your dishes a bit cheesy and a bit smelly, it is unlikely these remedies would accomplish much. Several books recommended cutting up pieces of stale bread and using them to clean wallpaper hangings. I shared this tidbit with some museum professional friends expecting them to laugh. Instead, they confirmed that this technique was successful. “Oh no, that totally works—it’s like a giant eraser. The conservators use that trick all the time.” Another chimed in, “I heard that Wonder Bread is even better. In fact, it’s probably better to rub it on your walls than to eat it.”

So I guess the best advice I can offer is…to take most advice with a grain of salt. Consider the financial means and concerns of the intended audience when exploring prescriptive literature. Don’t assume that when books on household management were purchased they were consumed wholesale—people have a habit of adapting advice to their own needs and discarding anything that doesn’t fit their worldview.

And always rub bread on your walls if you want them to look like new.

Wonder_Bread from WikipediaAbout the Author: Elizabeth Jones-Minsinger is a Ph.D. candidate in the History of American Civilization Program at the University of Delaware. She is writing her dissertation on women’s consumption in early America. You can follow her on twitter @LizJonesAll1Wrd.

On What it Means to Last

By Alyce Graham

In the last week of October, I had the good fortune to attend “Meant to Last? Preserving the Modern & Contemporary,” a conference hosted by the Conservation Center for Art and Historic Artifacts at the College of Physicians of Philadelphia.

College of Physicians
College of Physicians (Wiki Commons) 

The two-day conference brought together museum professionals, archivists, conservators, and students from around the region. The discussions prompted by each session raised valuable questions about how collections of modern materials should be composed, conserved, and disseminated.

Gregory Dale Smith, Senior Conservation Scientist at the Indianapolis Museum of Art, led one of the most valuable sessions. By describing the process of setting up his lab at the museum and walking through a few case studies, Smith entered into a wider consideration of what obligations museums had to care for objects made of inherently ephemeral materials. Modern materials often defy traditional cleaning techniques. For example, the plastic webbing on a collection of designer hats had begun to degrade. As plasticizers oozed out, the hats collected dust and lost the glossy appearance intended by the artist. But the plastic resisted water, so the lab stepped in to determine what the best procedure for cleaning and stabilizing the degradation. Unfortunately, they discovered that removing the dust and the sticky residue would only encourage more sticky residue to rise to the surface of the plastic, eventually causing considerable loss to the object. So the curators had to weigh their options: leave the hats dirty, in opposition to their original appearance; or clean the hats and risk losing the object. Smith’s analysis of this situation will help many curators as they work through similar crises in their own collections.

Plastics: Looking at the Future and Learning from the Past
Smith recommended this book called Plastics: Looking at the Future and Learning from the Past

Smith led another session the following day focusing on the case study of a ceramic vase decorated with fugitive inks from a set of markers, the Italian equivalent of Crayola. The vase had gone on a touring exhibition under standard light and humidity restrictions, only to return with near total losses of color over several areas. The museum has not determined a solution to this problem yet. They are working with the artist to understand his intention—was fading and loss part of his plan for the lifespan of the object?—and with conservators and scientists to set storage parameters for the vase. It also served as a reminder to registrars to go ahead and set extremely restrictive light parameters for objects going out on loan, especially if they are made of modern or untested materials. Another reminder came from Smith’s description of a set of plastic lamps that crystallized when left in a storage crate for over a year. Despite the admonition that the crates should not serve as permanent storage, a reorganization of the museum’s storage areas made it seem safer to keep them packed. During that year, the wood of the packing crates turned the interior environment of the crates acidic, causing the crystallization. The crystallized lamps have been deaccessioned into a study collection, and now we all have one more reason to unpack promptly.

Besides the scientific case studies, the conference also provided several sessions that asked wider questions about what collections of modern materials could mean to the public. Several talks broadly considered the implications of collection and conservation. There was an excellent explanation of copyright laws, and a panel discussion about digital collections. Anne C. Jones, curator at the 1950’s All-Electric House at the Johnson County (KS) Museums, spoke about their acquisition and furnishing of an entire house. The museum collected a tract house as an exemplar of the style of homes that changed post-war America. There was nothing special about it architecturally or historically. Instead, it was refurbished as a model home exactly like the ones people would have toured in the 1950s. In light of this, Jones shunned traditional conservation of several objects, reaching out instead to commercial restoration services to make the objects “look new.” This unorthodox decision allowed her to protect the museum’s intent for the house’s collection.

Even for those of us material culture scholars who love the really old stuff, it is likely that the collections we will care for in our professional futures will hold objects made of modern materials. As we care for whatever sort of degrading plastic hats or vases made with cheap, nontoxic markers in our own collections, holding aloft the questions of our collection’s purpose and the artist’s intent can guide us as we make critical decisions.

About the author: Alyce Graham is a fifth-year American Civilization PhD candidate writing her dissertation about hardship and suffering in nineteenth-century polar exploration.

The Wonderful Things of My Driving Life

I kept my minivan reasonably clean (Nicole might beg to differ on the definition of “reasonably”), but I needed to empty it entirely when I sold it last month. As I dug deeper into the various pockets and drawers of what seemed a veritable high chest on wheels, I began to realize that there were quite a lot of things in my car. Some I added over the years. Others ended up there seemingly of their own accord. I’d driven this car for five years, through three degrees, several jobs, two states of residence, and a period or two when it was the only  home base I had during short term gigs and temporary housing. I’m not saying I ever lived in it. But I probably could have.

The rear axle of my minivan took a beating during my move to Delaware, when the car was fully loaded.

I was midway through emptying the minivan when I came across two parking tickets from Tiffin, Ohio, dated 2010. I was attending Heidelberg College that year, and I lived on a street where territorial neighbors called the police on any car left parked on the curb for more than three days. Thankfully, I managed to get those tickets waived, and then I tucked them into my glove compartment and forgot about them. When I found them again, I paused.

What was I thinking? Here I was, a material culture scholar and lapsed archaeologist, about to purge a time capsule of artifacts and ephemera without even documenting it. This was practically the King Tut’s tomb of twenty-first-century American automobility! Looking it over reminded me of the conversation between the two British Egyptologists who first peered into the dark sepulcher of King Tut.

“Can you see anything?” asked my inner Lord Carnarvon.

“Yes,” responded my inner Howard Carter, “Wonderful things!”

Like King Tut’s tomb, the contents of my car were not average or very reflective of my contemporaries. Most people I know (and I know some strange people) don’t have embossed bricks, British regimental coat trim, or Sears, Roebuck catalogs in their cars. But to each his own, right?

Moreover, material culture scholars seek the unusual as often as we look for the normal and mundane. We ask how people, common or elite, strange or unremarkable, used things in their everyday lives. Wouldn’t it be great to know what an eighteenth-century sailor, especially an abnormal one, carried in his sea chest? Or what a wealthy Philadelphian in the early republic stocked in her carriage? Sometimes we get glimpses of these accoutrements in historical documents such as probate inventories taken upon death, advertisements seeking the return of stolen goods, and insurance settlements. But most often, we have to fit together bits and pieces from archaeologists, archivists, and curators to guess what such people lived with and what these things meant.

Besides, even though the individual objects in my car were quite peculiar, I suspect that most of my contemporaries own many things (in their cars and their homes) that fall into the same basic categories. So I went about taking an inventory of just what sorts of things I had in my car and what these objects meant to me.

The complete contents my minivan at the time I sold it.

I had functional things and some things now obsolete. Road maps for Ohio, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and other states and cities seemed pitiably defunct next to the Garman GPS I acquired a couple of years ago. I had a little bit of cash and a fair amount of coins, not to mention some Chinese money and a fake $20 bill from a board game. I had an EZ-Pass, an expired parking pass, a Mackinac Bridge commuter card, and gift cards for Starbucks, Panera Bread, and an oil change. Moisturizer, hand sanitizer, sunscreen, sunglasses, and spare glasses. A CD player with a cassette converter for the minivan’s stereo system, a phone charger, and a set of spark plugs for a different car.

My minivan contained quite a few sentimental relics. I had the box of cassette tapes my father assembled about a quarter century ago that is a time capsule in itself. I had a small stuffed Santa Claus doll that my mom bought as a pity purchase at a yard sale (the sort of sale where the only way you can escape with your conscience intact is to spend a dollar on something) that had been with me through two cars (since he was left in the car we drove to that yard sale). I had a small strip of regimental “lace” trim from the uniform of the King’s/8th Regiment, which we portrayed when I was a historical interpreter at Colonial Michilimackinac. I had a strange faux-ivory hair comb and a bag of airline peanuts related to jokes I only hazily remember from college. I had an embossed brick I stole from the firepit behind that house in Tiffin. Wedged deep in a crack in the floor were a few antique buttons from a memorable trip to a country auction where I bought a box of buttons, put them on the backseat of the minivan, and later watched and listened as they flew everywhere when I slammed on my brakes to avoid a collision.

I had some things that even I will admit were quite weird. The canvas portion of a reproduction Civil War wall tent. The bases to a metal display system for art and antiques. Two strange wrought-iron hooks that were my first attempts at blacksmithing. A killer little piece of folk art a friend made back when Bluetooth phones first appeared that he dubbed a “fork phone.” Thanks to the addition of a small wire loop, you could wear your fork around your ear and eat with it!

I had clothes. Hats, gloves, pants, t-shirts. And other essentials. Toilet paper, a towel, drop cloths, and plastic sheeting. Ropes, bungee cords, zip-ties, WD-40, tape. I grew up in northern Michigan, and I still carry far more snow emergency equipment out here in Delaware than necessary. Two folding shovels, two ice scrapers, candles, and hand warmers.

In case I got stuck somewhere in that rather unlikely mid-Atlantic blizzard, I carried a veritable toolbox: a hammer, a saw, knives, pliers, flashlights, and a roll-up first aid kit full enough to handle just about any emergency and including, among other things, fishing equipment, an outdoor thermometer, and a compass.

What was I thinking? What did all these things mean?

On one hand, maybe I was just a slovenly car owner. But there was hardly any outright trash in my car. Most everything had a reason for being there, arcane though these reasons were. The truth is, these things probably say even more about me than I can say about them. And the beauty of material culture is that you can come to your own conclusions about my things.

Here’s one version, the scenario as I imagined it. My trusty minivan had finally found a snowbank too high to overcome. But not to worry. While I was eating my candle-roasted trout with my fork/phone and checking the temperature outside, I would be considering my next order from Sears, Roebuck, circa 1902. I could recline in one of two collapsible chairs under the canvas of a reproduction Civil War tent. Who cared when the snow cleared? I had a few granola bars, a wildflower identification book, and enough vintage Meat Loaf cassettes to last quite some time…

Wonderful things, indeed.

IMG_6209

About the author: Tyler Rudd Putman is a Ph.D. student in the History of American Civilization program at the University of Delaware. His research interests include material culture, historical archaeology, and military history. You can read more about his work on his website, here, and his blog, here.

Teaching Paleography and the Canton Trade System

When I decided to include a one-day workshop (1.5 hours) on paleography (the fancy word for the study of handwriting) in my World History II survey last summer, I thought my students might never make it through the session (not for lack of smarts but lack of interest – this was, after all, a survey course many students take to fulfill general education requirements). The handwriting is impossible to read, they would say. Why are we doing this, they would ask, explaining that they had never learned how to write in cursive in the first place. (To my surprise, it turned out that most had learned cursive in school, making me wonder to what extent it might be a myth that students don’t learn how to write in cursive anymore). With another group of students, this very well could have happened. But in this instance, it seemed to work. Here’s how.

Kip Sperry’s Reading Early American Handwriting (1998)

Kip Sperry’s Reading Early American Handwriting (1998)

I wanted my students to get some experience reading historic handwriting. I also wanted them to learn some content associated with the course. Before holding the workshop during one of our regularly scheduled classes, I asked the students to take a look at three examples of historic handwriting in Kip Sperry’s Reading Early American Handwriting (1998).

I chose one from the late nineteenth century, the early nineteenth century, and the mid-eighteenth century. Each sample comes with a transcription, and I tasked the students with simply giving it a try. (This was one of just a few optional reading assignments for the semester). Those who completed it genuinely seemed to get something out of it. One student noted it took them one go to get the words and a second to get the content. They quickly learned the tricks seasoned historians use when they encounter a new hand: matching known letters to similar unknown letters, reading and rereading to get accustomed to comprehending the hand and the syntax, and reading aloud to get the meaning. Armed with this experience, I thought they’d be primed for the workshop.

Silk samples associated with a bill of lading signed by John Latimer, 60×27, Col. 235, Downs Collections of Manuscripts and Printed Ephemera, Winterthur Library

Silk samples associated with a bill of lading signed by John Latimer, 60×27, Col. 235, Downs Collection of Manuscripts and Printed Ephemera, Winterthur Library

When they arrived the day of the workshop, I gave them a brief lecture on the so-called Canton Trade System, or the vibrant and sometimes contentious trade between China and the West  from about 1750-1840.

Detail of the letter my students transcribed from John Latimer, Sept. 1819, 60×1.9, Col. 235, Downs Collection of Manuscripts and Printed Ephemera, Winterthur Library

Detail of the letter my students transcribed from John Latimer, Sept. 1819, 60×1.9, Col. 235, Downs Collection of Manuscripts and Printed Ephemera, Winterthur Library

We talked about the exchange of silk and spices, silver and lacquered furniture, opium (which ultimately led to the end of the Canton trade, a subject we broached in a later class), and tea. I even brought in some nineteenth-century Canton porcelain from my own collection to make this all a little more concrete.

Then, I gave them ample time to transcribe a letter (in groups) written by Delaware merchant John Latimer (1793-1865) (always helps to make local connections) to a business associate about trading specific commodities in Canton. I had the students take a look at a scanned version of the letter on large-sized computer screens with zoom capability in a lab on campus.

Nicole Belolan Teaching Summer 2014

The letter, which I had identified after spending a glorious day trolling the Downs collection at the Winterthur Library and which had been scanned by a Winterthur librarian, was a hit. The students made it through nearly every word, struggling almost exclusively with the most arcane words (such as supercargo, or the person who served as the the ship’s owner’s representative) and syntax. They really gained an appreciation for the intricacies of what trade involved in the early nineteenth century–from how merchants communicated (lots of hand-written letters, sometimes in duplicate or triplicate) to what merchants had to know about preferences for certain commodities to deciding whether to trade with cash or goods.

And while they learned from the letter itself about trade and globalization (a major course theme), the letter also spurred additional questions–many more than did the average lecture-discussion. How did English-speaking Americans communicate with the Chinese, they wondered. Why was insurance such a concern? And what remains the same today about trade with China and other countries around the world? Learning through doing definitely seemed to inspire deeper thinking.

I didn’t know whether this workshop would work in the end, but I’m glad I took the risk. Despite their initial trepidation, I think the students enjoyed it too. And the next time they encounter old-fashioned manuscript writing (whether it’s that of their bosses or that of a historic diary), hopefully they’ll recall some of the skills they learned that day…and why an insect called cochineal was so valuable.

Resources

The Downs Collection of Manuscripts and Printed Ephemera at the Winterthur Library has several collections related to the Canton System. I’d like to extend special thanks to Jeanne Solensky for assisting me with identification of these collections and for scanning  a handful of documents for the class. In addition to the Latimer Family Collection, see also Fol 153, an 1804 sea journal that provides insight into how to deal with specific Chinese merchants. For other examples, search “China trade” in WinterCat.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the Peabody Essex Museum (PEM) partnered to make an excellent online learning module called the Rise & Fall of the Canton Trade System. If I hadn’t done a paleography workshop addressing the CTS, I would have assigned parts of this website for reading homework.

I used a lot of images from online museum collections for my entire course. For this particular class, I found collections at the Peabody Essex Museum and London’s National Maritime Museum to be most helpful.

About the author: Nicole Belolan is a Ph.D. Candidate in the History of American Civilization program at the University of Delaware. She is writing a dissertation about the material culture of physical disability in early America. Nicole is also a graduate assistant for Sustaining Places, an IMLS-funded initiative that is dedicated to providing hands-on, practical resources for small museums. This blog post was original published at her professional web site. Nicole tweets @nicolebelolan.