Summer Fellows 2008

Public Engagement in Material Culture Institute (PEMCI): 2008 Abstracts

“From Avatars to Radio Sound Bites: Using Accessible Language and New Digital Technologies to Inspire the Public”
Photo Gallery

Graduate student participants, their departments and topics:

Lorena Baines, Art History

“Nicolaes de Bruyn and the Art of the Professional Engraver”

My dissertation Nicolaes de Bruyn and the Art of the Professional Engraver concentrates on the prints of the Flemish engraver Nicolaes de Bruyn (1571-1650), whose fifty-eight-year-career spans the late sixteenth to mid-seventeenth centuries. De Bruyn was active during a period when traditional methods of producing, marketing and displaying prints changed dramatically. He was known primarily for creating large-scale forest landscapes populated with religious and mythological figures. The sheer size of his prints popularized a format that pushed the boundaries of how prints were produced, bought, displayed, and valued as works of art.

Holl. 132 Judgment of Paris, Harvard digitalDe Bruyn has been identified as a “reproductive” engraver because he regularly collaborated with some of the most prominent painters and draftsmen of his day, including David Vinckboons and Gillis van Coninxloo. In contrast, the painter-printmakers, such as Rembrandt and Albrecht Dürer, dubbed peinture-graveurs by Adam von Bartsch in 1803, have received the bulk of scholarly attention since these artists both designed and executed their own plates. Print scholars have also focused on etchings, which often mimic the tonal appearance of drawings and were valued as undiluted records of artistic inspiration. For these reasons, engravers such as de Bruyn have received far less attention.

My objective is to consider de Bruyn not as a reproductive engraver, but as a particular type of specialist: a professional engraver. He participated in a revolution in picture-making that was comparable to Gutenberg’s invention of movable type or even today’s internet in terms of the dissemination of visual images in the service of knowledge and pleasure. His career represents in microcosm major historical changes that resulted in a new type of visual literacy at a time when images moved fluidly through society.

Andrew Bozanic, History

“The Acoustic Guitar in American Culture 1880-1970”

This project will examine the interplay between makers and users in the social construction of the acoustic guitar, an object that became the instrument of choice for the American masses in the 20th century. Over the course of nearly a century from 1880 to 1970, American manufacturers and musicians influenced the composition, appearance, style, and sound of a series of acoustic fretted instruments. The result was the creation of a uniquely flexible and distinctly American guitar that was easy to play, hard to break, and extremely portable. Musicians, both amateur and professional, learned and developed the skills that allowed the guitar to be interwoven through a myriad of musical genres that include blues, country, folk, and, most notably, rock and roll.

To make sense of this complex story, I plan to organize the dissertation into three thematic and chronological sections. The first section explores the new techniques of production and marketing, which transformed the guitar industry in the late 19th century. The second section describes the influence and impact of ethnic musical traditions and innovations on both musicians and manufacturers. The final section looks at how musicians playing in various musical styles and traditions adopted the guitar and turned it into an instrument of mass culture. Through the course of my research, I plan to utilize a variety of sources including musical instruments, business ephemera, oral histories, periodicals, sheet music, and sound recordings. This project will encompass perspectives from the fields of business, social, and cultural history as well the study of material culture and the history of technology.

Anna Blinn Cole, Urban Affairs and Public Policy

“The Sociology of the Kitchen: Bringing out the People in the Place”

Central Delaware in the eighteenth century was a frontier region nestled between the Delaware Valley and the Chesapeake regions. Settlers came to Delaware from Philadelphia, Maryland and Virginia and brought with them diverse traditions of service and domestic space. My thesis will address kitchen “options” available to eighteenth-century Central Delawareans in this time of cross-cultural sharing and demarcation.

John Ingram’s house and kitchen, Sussex County, Orphan’s Court document F-194-5, 1796, from Gabrielle Lanier and Bernard L. Herman, Everyday Architecture in the Mid-Atlantic.Options for kitchen design ranged from a kitchen integrated into the multi-purpose hall in a hall/parlor plan to a detached kitchen outbuilding to a kitchen housed in a subsidiary wing off the rear or end of the main house. The kitchen integrated within the hall/parlor plan was an approach used by English colonists from New England to Virginia and speaks most clearly about the traditions those settlers were immediately removed from in their homeland. Southern colonists soon began to adapt this tradition to place at least some of the cooking activity in a building fully detached from the main house. Heat, slavery and isolation from service have all been posed as possible causes for this shift. Emerging from the Delaware Valley was another kitchen design that placed those service functions in a separate yet still adjoined space supporting the main house.

In Central Delaware all of these options occurred simultaneously. My research will use primary data sources from the eighteenth century to begin to understand what social, cultural or economic elements influenced kitchen design decisions in this cross-cultural environment and how this one room spoke of larger sociological conceptions of service and space.

Joshua Calhoun, English

“Legible Ecologies: Animals, Vegetables, and Readers in Early Modern England”

I spend much of my time reading and writing about books printed during Shakespeare’s lifetime. But this summer, as part of my involvement with the University of Delaware’s Public Engagement Institute, I am focusing on modern wardrobes because I think that thinking about our own clothes is one way to begin to understand the important relationship between clothing and books–a relationship that spurred the printing press in the 15th century and one that existed almost to the end of the 19th century.

This summer, I plan to cut up some of my most personally significant items of clothing. Then I’ll put the pieces in a blender and pulp them, make the pulp into sheets of paper, and finish writing about the significance of items like my ugly orange shirt (pictured here) on paper made from the shirt itself. And I’ll be inviting others to join me in making paper out of and writing about significant cloth objects. During our one-day “Papermaking and Writing Workshop” we’ll work through some of the complexities of making written memories on material objects.

I’ll also be working on my dissertation project, which tells the story of early modern ecology as a reader might have understood it: there s/he sits, perhaps reading Shakespearean lines about “tongues in trees and books in running brooks,” marking the flax-fiber paper with a goose quill soaked in an inky concoction of plant oil and gall, itself the product of wasp eggs and oak bark. This summer, I’ll have the privilege of investigating the ecology of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century books and manuscripts at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C., the Huntington Library in San Marino, CA, and the British Library in London, UK.

Daniel Claro, History of American Civilization

“Bodies in Motion: Material Culture and the Experience of Mobility, 1800-1860”

Between 1800 and 1860, new conveyances transformed mobility in America and Europe. Macadam roads, steam engines and canals are well known as technological systems that facilitated the rise of a burgeoning market economy, but the best books about travel in this period say little about how people actually understood these changes. Fortunately, antebellum travelers carried pocket-sized journals and enthusiastically recorded where they went, how they got there, and often what it felt like. These first-hand accounts of travel by horseback, stagecoach, flatboats on the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers, canal packets, steamboats, and ultimately, railroads, offer a rich and vivid sense of personal experience. Situating individuals’ descriptions of what travel felt like in a broader context of American mobility and material culture, I argue that people understood the technological and economic changes wrought by the transportation revolution in a highly personal way: through their bodies.

This project focuses on the materiality of bodies in motion, and uses letters, travel journals, art, and surviving clothing, luggage, and vehicles to illuminate the human-scale of American travelers’ changing experiences. Opening with Meriwether Lewis’ Herculean efforts to get from Washington DC to St. Louis in 1803, subsequent chapters employ three quintessential pieces of travel equipment—clothing, luggage, and conveyance—to consider how travelers experienced the transportation revolution. I argue that as new transport systems became available, and ideas about distance, time and mobility began to change, travelers remained preoccupied by their sensory reactions to environment and the physicality of movement. This body–centric view persisted despite technological change, and offers valuable insight into the texture of antebellum life.

Marina Dobronovskaya, Preservation Studies Doctoral Program

“The Reconstruction of Cities in the USSR following World War II”

Kristina Huff, English

“Printing Friendship and Buying Feeling: Exchange and Gift Books in the Antebellum United States”

My project, “Gratitude, Servitude, and Book-Bound Benevolence: Anti-Slavery Gift Books in the Antebellum United States,” a chapter of my dissertation Printing Friendship and Buying Feeling: Exchange and Gift Books in the Antebellum United States, will look closely at antebellum U.S. anti-slavery gift books in order to explain how Northern philosophical stances on abolition were materially realized in the object of the anti-slavery gift book. Because these books argued for a cause that had so much moral urgency, I propose that examining the relationships among the books’ contents, contexts, and physical details will help us begin to understand how gift books come to stand for and shape readers’ own feelings. As my larger project will argue, although they were mass-printed, most often for public audiences, anti-slavery gift books helped forge and came to symbolize complex relationships between their givers and receivers as well as between their readers and the slaves depicted in the texts.

Amber Kerr–Allison, Art Conservation

“Paintings Conservation and Public Outreach”

In the early 20th century, art and objects of material culture were restored quietly in the back rooms of museums and private galleries by restorers using secret recipes. Today, art conservation has evolved into a profession in which science, art history, and studio practices are governed by a code of ethics and administered by a field of trained professionals who dedicate themselves to the preservation, care, and conservation for art and works of cultural heritage throughout the world. Yet, a certain mystique about the profession still intrigues the public, provoking curiosity regarding the responsibility and challenges of preserving collections.

Public Museums across the globe have begun to recognize the public’s curiosity, arranging major exhibitions featuring the analytical and technical secrets of artworks, their history, and their preservation. The quiet restoration of artworks in back rooms is being replaced by in-progress conservation treatments witnessed by visitors in the galleries or behind glass walls. These burgeoning projects pique the public’s interest and alter perceptions of the museum from a static display environment to that of a living, breathing entity.

Conservators realize that informing the public about proper procedures in conservation and collections care and the existence of trained conservation professionals will result in the preservation of more works of art. Advocacy and public excitement about conservation will help to raise funds for equipment, storage needs, and environmental systems for conservation departments and will benefit smaller institutions by providing the funds and resources needed to survey collections, educate staff, and subsidize treatment costs.

This project seeks to cultivate new ways of engaging public interest in conservation in order to educate people on how they may best care for their family heirlooms and collections, as well as contribute to the preservation needs of artworks and cultural property. Public outreach programs help to remove the mystery and misconceptions surrounding art conservation and to engage communities as well as individuals in the service and care of cultural heritage. The responsibility of preserving works of art and cultural heritage for future generations lies not only in the hands of the professionals who manage and treat these objects, but also in the commitment, understanding, and support of the people for which the works are being preserved.

Lyndsey Rago, History

“Pieces of the Past: Memory and Material Life in Britain, 1837-1882”

My dissertation studies historical memory and tourism, and how Victorians experienced and conceived of the past through travels throughout Britain and the empire. I argue that non-elites and elites had many means of appreciating and understanding history, which brought them out of the classroom, out of the history textbook, and in to the material world surrounding them. Each chapter of my dissertation is devoted to a particular historical age, and how Victorians engaged with that period of history. I discuss the Victorian response to the history of ancient England, and how Victorians engaged with the ancient past through the example of Stonehenge. I then analyze the Victorian conception of the Medieval Past; through a series of examples, such as the Eglinton Tournament of 1839, the Medieval Court at the Crystal Palace, and Madame Tussaud’s Waxworks, I talk about bringing medieval history “alive” to Victorian Britons. I discuss the attitude toward Oliver Cromwell and the Commonwealth in the Victorian period, specifically centered around the controversy surrounding the inclusion of a Cromwell statue at the new Houses of Parliament. I then move into modern history, discussing the recent past of the Indian Rebellion and interpretations of it in media such as newspapers, theatre, and art. My dissertation argues that historical consciousness was a lived, and livable, experience, embedded in the minds and lives of all Victorians. As a result of the Institute for Public Engagement in Material Culture, I will be integrating technology into my study of how contemporary people experience Stonehenge, through a blog which will chronicle people’s personal stories about their travels to the site.

Kathleen R. Slaugh-Sanford, English

“Hereditary Genius? The Development of Genius Theories and the Artist Figure in British Print Media, 1869-1900”

Beerbohm of WildeFor this project, I will explore the struggle between late-Victorian authors and scientists over producing and circulating scientific and cultural ideas of creative genius by investigating the figure of Oscar Wilde whose likeness was produced both rhetorically and visually. Specifically, I will consider how these texts were used to create the public’s perception of the author’s genius. Because scientists debated the nature of artistic genius, they contended with artists for the privilege to identify genius. My research will examine both the ways that Wilde attempted to engineer his public image as an artistic genius through the circulation of photographs and illustrations of himself and the caricatures produced by artists wishing to undermine Wilde as deviant because, both before and after his 1895 trials, Wilde provoked claims of being a degenerate genius both racially and sexually. Wilde’s personal life as well as his professional marketing strategies provides significant commentary regarding the nature of genius for fin de siècle England. In works such as ‘Pen, Pencil and Poison ‘ (1891) and The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891) Wilde emphasizes his belief in the separation between an artist’s life and his or her art as well as an interest in the performance of identity. For Wilde, genius emerges regardless of one’s racial makeup or sexual conduct. Wilde’s creation of a public persona—one that was well-dressed and physically appealing—was engineered to produce interest in Wilde as an artist, not in Wilde as an Anglo-Irish homosexual. Unfortunately for Wilde, scientific and popular audiences did not entirely agree with a separation of an artist’s personal lifestyle and the creation of his or her artworks, and often shunned Wilde’s genius as deviant and unnatural.

Janneken Smucker, History of American Civilization

“From Rags to Riches: Amish Quilts and the Crafting of Value”

My dissertation asks how individuals, communities, and institutions constructed the value—monetary, aesthetic, and emotional—of Amish quilts during the late twentieth century. Amish quiltmakers and entrepreneurs, cultural brokers from the art world, and consumers eager to own their own piece of authenticity all participated in the processes that crafted the value and meaning of these objects. As articles of familial affection, as works of art, and as commodities that helped draw millions of visitors each year to tourist havens known as “Amish Country,” quilts have enjoyed status, appreciation, and high monetary value. Amish quiltmaking, once an activity of communal production, became a market driven process influenced by interior decoration trends, modern art exhibitions, shrinking agricultural land, tourism, and international refugee migrations. My dissertation investigates why these objects have received so much attention—as demonstrated by the outpouring of books published, exhibitions held, and rising price tags—during the past several decades. Why have a wide variety of individuals—from a souvenir-buying tourist to an executive at a San Francisco fashion company—sought out Amish quilts?

Wheatcroft Ad Budget 1985To help answer some of these questions, I am conducting oral history interviews with a wide range of individuals—Amish entrepreneurs, antiques dealers, museum curators, consumers in Amish country, and quilt collectors. My use of oral history allows my material culture dissertation to be about people just as much as it is about objects. The general public likes both quilts and the Amish, which allows my research to reach well beyond an academic audience, as I’ve learned from presenting to museum groups and quilt guilds. Audience members have been eager to share their own experiences with quilts, and I often gain informative anecdotal evidence in the discussions following my presentations. To further convey the social processes that constructed the value of Amish quilts, I propose to use aural evidence—the voices of my subjects describing their own involvement with Amish quilts. With the opportunity provided by this fellowship to harness new technologies, I will be able to integrate edited audio experts from my interviews into a podcast that I can share with the public. Individuals’ own voices describing their experiences buying quilts, helping produce quilts, or engaging in the lucrative business of selling quilts will express so much more than a transcription of their words quoted in the text of my dissertation. A digitally enhanced presentation will allow oral history to be aural history. I plan to present aspects of this project to the Delaware Institute for the Arts in Education during Fall 2008.

Colleen Terry, Art History

“Hogarth in America”

Laura Walikainen, History of American Civilization

“Geraldine’s Scrapbook of Dresses”

During the summer of 2008, my research will focus on “Geraldine’s Scrapbook of Dresses,” a scrapbook of dress patterns and swatches created by Geraldine’s mother, Ella Brown. “Geraldine’s Scrapbook of Dresses” is located in the Joseph Downs Manuscript Collection at the Winterthur Museum. This book follows the life of Geraldine Brown from 1889 to 1904. Ella Brown pasted fabric swatches into the scrapbook, along with depictions of the dress patterns she used to make each of Geraldine’s dresses. Interestingly, Ella Brown also dated each dress and indicated where the dress was first worn. This dress scrapbook is a reflection of the aspirations of a middle-class mother in Victorian America. Through this scrapbook and the dresses she made for her daughter, I believe that we can come to a better understanding of the desires of Ella Brown as they were shaped by the world around her. I hope to discover how this object can comment on the larger society and culture in which it was created.

From Geraldine’s Scrapbook of Dresses”Geraldine’s Scrapbook of Dresses” is such a colorful and vibrant object that I hope to develop it into a digital, computer-based experience for the public. I envision visitors digitally “turning the pages” of the scrapbook and exploring the object for themselves. I would then be able to visually present my research findings through an interactive, digital experience that would allow the public to encounter this object in a more hands-on environment. “Geraldine’s Scrapbook of Dresses” is a unique and compelling object that needs to be further analyzed and shared with the public. At the end of the summer, I hope to gain a greater understanding of this object and how best to bring it to life outside of its archival home for the rest of the world to enjoy.

Bess Williamson, History of American Civilization

“Assistive Technologies for Disabilities, 1950s-80s”

My dissertation traces changes in the design of everyday objects and spaces in response to new ideas about disability in the last half of the twentieth century. In an era of medical improvements as well as a burgeoning civil rights movement, people with disabilities emerged from near invisibility to demand independence and equal opportunity. In response to these social and political shifts, policymakers, manufacturers, and users themselves modified everyday objects and built environments to improve function and accessibility for all. Examining artifacts of everyday life, as well as documents of political and legal wrangling, I argue that in debates around disability, this kind of physical change became a primary tool in the pursuit of an inclusive society. Given that physical access did not always translate into greater acceptance of and opportunity for people with disabilities, I analyze both the promises and limitations of design change for confronting social barriers.