2013 Emerging Scholars Symposium

Embodied Objects: Material Culture Studies in Three Dimensions

Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library  (directions)
Saturday, April 20, 2013

Panel 1: Race and Cultural Memory

“A Mother’s Heart Alone Can Understand It”: The Trope of the Childless Slave Mother in the Transatlantic Abolition Movement’s Print and Material Culture, 1820–1860
Rhae Lynn Barnes, Ph.D. Candidate in History, Harvard University

The average American in the late nineteenth century was inundated by performances and material objects related to Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin. In 1954 Rogers and Hammerstein’s musical The King and I (which contained a reinterpretation of Stowe’s novel) reintroduced Americans to the complex cultural memory of gender empathy that was pervasive in abolitionism. Popular memory suggests Stowe created this rhetoric, but by giving a close reading to baby quilts sold at antislavery fairs in New England as early as 1828, we can glean new truths about the central role of motherhood (defined as a basic human right) and its intellectual development in nineteenth century abolitionism. Historians Laurel Thatcher Ulrich and George M. Fredrickson posit Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin as the canonical text that argued for the centrality of gender, motherhood, and families in the abolition effort in the 1850s. This paper critically analyzes everyday household objects like baby quilts, kitchenware, correspondence, and short stories created by abolitionist writers Lydia Maria Child, Eliza Cabot Follen, and Stowe revealing that as early as the 1830s women developed the trope of the “childless slave mother.” Abolitionists wanted white women to see how purchasing cotton household goods made them complicit in the forced reproductive labor of black women by using mediums they labored with in their own home. By focusing on the denial of basic human rights such as black “motherhood” in the visual imagery of household items, it becomes evident women as early as the 1830s argued for a shift in focus from understanding enslaved black families as economic units, to kinship networks held together by sentimental bonds. The paper tracks how the trope of the childless slave mother was developed by two generations of abolition female leaders, proving Harriet Beecher Stowe did not invent this argument, but renationalized an infrastructure developed between 1820 and 1860 by the Civil War.

Power and Scale in Ethnographic House Models
Alexander Brier Marr, Ph.D. Candidate in Visual and Cultural Studies, University of Rochester

In the 1890s Smithsonian anthropologist James Mooney commissioned miniature painted tipis from the Kiowa, an indigenous nation from the Southern Plains of the United States. Displayed at the time at International Expositions, the ethnographic models mediated knowledge about the Kiowa. Their scale reduced social complexity to a manageable form. Today, these models can help us reconsider such familiar stories of miniaturization and control.

When Mooney began working with the Kiowa they had recently moved from tipis to cabins. They would soon lose their title to reservation land. For Mooney, the models recorded a culture in imminent danger of disappearing. Yet the small dwellings endure as more than historical records. In Kiowa aesthetics, painting model tipis amounts to a renewal, rather than a replication, of family symbols. Each symbol has a cosmological power unique to the tipi owner. Men willfully transferred images and associated powers. Painting crests without authorization, however, amounted to the most invasive degree of identity theft. Though too small to inhabit, the power of the model tipis is equal to fullsize painted lodges.

In 1962 Claude Lévi-Strauss theorized that to reduce something in scale is to exercise mastery over it. Rarely can we glimpse interiors of ethnographic house models. They appear as surface. Evacuated of life, they merely signify spatial interiority and historical depth. Yet seen from another vantage, one more consonant with investments of Kiowa makers, the models extend Native history rather than flatten it. Embedded in an era of loss, the models secure the future for distinct Kiowa lineages. Exceeding the work of ethnological representation, they articulate Kiowa aesthetics. Describing the intercultural life of the Kiowa model tipis helps to identify the limits of imperial power, to show how smallness engenders a range of scenarios beyond colonial subjugation.

Collecting Disaster: September 11th, Hurricane Katrina, and the “Common Sense” of Race
Courtney Rivard, Fixed-term Faculty, English and Comparative Literature, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

The first decade of the 21st century in the United States witnessed two major events that have come to be understood as national disasters: September 11, 2001 and Hurricane Katrina. As disasters of monumental proportion, the two events not only produced ruptures in the everyday proceedings of the United States, but also overturned one of the bedrock principles of museumology – that significant time and distance are necessary before materials relating to an event can be properly collected. Many historical preservationists reasoned that disaster material must be immediately collected because that which was historically relevant was the very material that in need of instant removal: the destroyed debris from the disasters, such as Twin Tower steel beams, briefcases, pieces of levee walls, and distorted mailboxes from the 9th Ward. The need to act, or collect, quickly in the aftermath of the disaster has now come to be referred to as “disaster collecting.”

This paper traces the birth of disaster collecting through the creation of the September 11th and Hurricane Katrina Collections at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History (NMAH). Through an analysis of the collections’ acquisition files, interviews with key museum staff members, and material content, this paper uncovers the ways in which race, gender, and national belonging intersect to subtly, but powerfully inform the collection process, and the resulting content in the two collections. Ultimately this analysis reveals the ways in which similar collection methods yielded two very different outcomes in terms of each collection’s content and structure, consequently positioning the two respective victim groups in dramatically different fashions. Norms of whiteness were activated to focus on the individual loss of life of the victims of September 11th to position them as citizen heroes worthy of national mourning. On the other hand, notions of blackness, poverty, criminality, and disposability were employed to blame the victims of Hurricane Katrina, thereby granting them only distant sympathy and disassociating them from ideals of Americanness. These findings demonstrate the ways in which material collection is embedded within larger meaning-making power structures, most notable media framing and racialized thinking, which directly shape notions of national belonging through what is collected, how it is organized, and what is left out.

Panel 2: Public Spaces and Commemoration

To Frame a Ruin: The La Rochefoucauld and the Archaeological Garden in Pre-Revolutionary France
Gabriel Wick, Ph.D. Candidate in History and Cultural Geography, University of London – Queen Mary

When it came to raw material for a landscape garden, the duc de La Rochefoucauld and the inhabitants of the château of La Roche-Guyon suffered an embarrassment of riches: the hillside behind their chateau was a desolate heath which already sported a forbidding medieval tower. Thus their challenge lay not in fabricating a suitably sublime ruin, but rather in integrating a perfectly intact vestige of feudalism into the aesthetic schema of a picturesque landscape. To aid in this transformation, the duc La Rochefoucauld and his mother, the duchesse d’Enville, called upon a wide circle of artists, philosophes, and writers – most notably, the painter and composer of ruins, Hubert Robert, the landscape designer and theorist, Jean-Marie Morel, the poet, the Abbé Delille, and even the diplomat, Thomas Jefferson.

Interpreting this garden of the later 1770s as socio-political artifact frames landscape design as a social pratique that materialized many of the political and ideological struggles taking place within the elite of the Bourbon monarchy in the two decades before the French Revolution. What did it mean for members of an ancient dynasty who were also ardent proponents of reform to transform their patrimony into a ruin? What significance did ancient structures and the emergent science of archaeology hold in a society so rigorously founded upon historical precedent and legitimacy? What did it mean for the nobility to adapt the aesthetic practices of their national rival, the English, on French soil?

Today, as the garden is emerging from a century of neglect, the issues surrounding its curation pose no less intriguing questions: how should the site be conserved and interpreted? Can we reverse the natural effects of time upon a composition conceived as a meditation on temporality? How do we preserve the actual vestiges of a fake ruin without negating its intended meaning? 

Tombstone Attachment: Daguerreotypes and the Death of the Cemetery
Jacob Begin, Ph.D. Candidate in American and New England Studies Program, Boston University

In 1850, an issue of The Ladies Repository reported on a curious object known as the “morteotype,” for imbedding a likeness onto a gravestone impervious to the elements. One year later, Salon Jenkins Jr. of West Cambridge, Massachusetts created the first patent for securing a daguerreotype to a tombstone. Invented in 1839, the daguerreotype gained popularity as a medium until other photographic techniques rendered it obsolete by the 1860s. During its reign, the daguerreotype was the first form of photography incorporated into the American way of death.

My paper examines how a daguerreotype appended to a tombstone offers a new medium for memorializing the dead. The allure of the daguerreotype as a portable and affordable object rivals the memorial aspects of a gravestone. I argue that central to this competition between photography and stone lies a paradox between the material and ephemeral aspects of these two commemorative objects. A gravestone is built to last, ensuring that the memory of the deceased persists for many generations. The gravestone is difficult to move and reasonably defensive against natural elements. It transmits base knowledge of the deceased typically consisting of name, dates of birth and death. The carving of the stone is deep and permanent. In contrast, a daguerreotype is anything but permanent. It is easily damaged and susceptible to the wears of time. The daguerreotype is small and delicate, enclosed within a protective glass case. It is transportable with the ability to accompany any traveler no matter how light their luggage. But the daguerreotype is ephemeral in an additional way. The likeness captured by the lens of a camera occurs in mere seconds, yet within the context of the cemetery stands to represent an entire lifetime.

Gravestone daguerreotypes are also extremely rare. The daguerreotypes’ disappearance over time, due to vandalism and the attrition of time, reveals the importance of conserving “outside” artifacts: both in the sense of their outdoor habitat and the relative unawareness of their existence. The attachment of daguerreotypes to tombstones proves that forgotten objects can reveal extraordinary insights into the relationship between media and self-representation.

“An Interloper in the Cause”: The Fall of the Elbert County Confederate Monument and the Embodiment of Civil War Memory
Sarah Beetham, Ph.D. Candidate in Art History, University of Delaware

In a tiny room in the Elberton Granite Museum in Elberton, Georgia, the broken statue of a Confederate soldier lies on a stretcher covered in green baize. The statue is broken into four pieces: the principal section of head and body; two legs; and a base; which still bears the remains of the statue’s feet. This unfortunate statue once topped the Elbert County Confederate Monument, but it was pulled from its pedestal on August 13, 1900, when a crowd of townspeople who thought the statue looked “too Yankee,” and named it “Dutchy” for its Germanic appearance, attacked it in the middle of the night and dragged it to the ground in a mock lynching. “Dutchy” was then buried where he fell, facedown as a traitor, and exhumed in 1982, after which he was placed in the museum.

This paper will explore the material and historical implications of this act of iconoclasm. Because of defects in physiognomy, costume, and aesthetic merit, “Dutchy” failed to perform the primary function of a soldier monument: to serve as a representative body for the memory of Confederate soldiers who fell in battle for the Southern cause. Instead, his granite body became an effigy for the deep political anger of white Southerners, symbolically suffering the same nighttime violence too often visited on the bodies of African American Southerners and their Northern supporters. Enacted on Elbert County’s courthouse lawn, the lynching of “Dutchy” further highlights the relationship between Confederate monuments and the Southern legal system, in both its daytime and nighttime forms. “Dutchy’s” broken body is marked with the scars of aesthetic judgments, sectional strife, and racial violence, and his material history speaks to the power of sculpted human forms to spur action and order space.

Making the Mapparium
Sara Georgini, Ph.D. Candidate in History, Boston University

In early 1933, with his prestigious commission for the new Christian Science Publishing Company headquarters nearly complete, Boston architect Chester Lindsay Churchill persuaded First Church directors to cap the building with a unique feature: a 30-foot-high, stained-glass globe of the world pictured frominside of it. On blueprints, he called it simply the “Mapparium,” meaning “a place for maps.” According to the Harvard-trained naval architect, the Mapparium would help the Church to “extend its influence and establish a more friendly contact and understanding with people generally.” Following David Woodward’s tripartite classification scheme of the map as a social document, visitors can “read” the Mapparium on different levels: as a stained-glass image of globular projection; as a vehicle for the promotion of Christian Science; and as an artifact of early twentieth-century geopolitical cartography. Just as a map is a rhetorical device that reveals the historical dimension of power relations, the concave Mapparium is the embodiment of a distinctive worldview of 1935, projecting a geographical record that visitors continue to interpret and deconstruct. It may even be the best-read map in Boston. Through repeated interaction and inquiry, the “reading” public acts as an author of the map, and so my paper offers a social history of the Mapparium via its many makers. In Depression-era Boston, the Mapparium’s presence had an immediate impact, drawing crowds who marveled at the ability to walk inside a hollowed-out map. More than ten million visitors have crossed the Mapparium’s 30-foot glass bridge since then, admiring its brilliantly lit display, and noting its geographical singularities and acoustical quirks. Sensitive to the artistry and science of the medieval mappamundi tradition, and supported by the lingering Victorian fad for geography-as-spectacle, the architects were careful to place it at the religion’s center, the Mother Church. There it remains as a vibrant example of how public history sites use cartography to connect with visitors. My work charts the making of the Mapparium, the bronze-ribbed “globe room” that Churchill envisioned as a site to educate visitors about the Church’s presence in the world. Drawing from correspondence, blueprints, organizational records, newspaper accounts, and oral histories held by the First Church of Christ, Scientist and the associated artisans who made it, I explore the creation and use of the Mapparium as a modern exercise in public mapmaking.

Panel 3: Gender and the Exchange of Knowledge

A Study in Ivory: Anatomical Models and Women’s Medicine in the Early Modern Era
Cali Buckley, Ph.D. Candidate in Art History, Pennsylvania State University

Scholars often treat ivory anatomical models as simple curiosities, but these intricately carved manikins played a significant role in the control of women’s reproductive medicine in the early modern era. Beginning in the sixteenth century, academically educated men in Europe worked to wrest women’s health from the hands of midwives using ivories with nested sets of removable organs that mimicked printed “flap anatomies” with paper layers depicting the internal body. The study of these two sets of objects reveal a transition from vernacular prints for the masses to luxury items for doctors that reflects the need for control over the knowledge and visibility of women’s bodies.

While inexpensive flap anatomies were created for mass audiences in an era of relative intellectual freedom, expensive ivory manikins were possessed and commissioned by doctors supporting the push against vernacular, gynocentric medicine. At the heart of the dialectic between midwives and physicians is tactility. Men were not privy to observing birth and were only occasionally able to dissect female corpses. Only midwives could viscerally experience the living female body. This disparity in knowledge was conceptually bridged by physicians through tactile, three-dimensional anatomical models. But these manikins also served as signs of status and authority in both medium and display. In using ivory manikins for demonstration, physicians created climates of controlled looking and touching. While midwives were once the keepers of haptic knowledge, physicians harnessed that power by physically possessing a symbolic everywoman. They used it not to teach women about themselves but to teach male students about women, creating a male discourse about the tactile body to replace the extant knowledge of women.

In understanding early modern anatomical models, we can begin to we can find new uses for material history that go beyond tactility in the arts into scientific and social paradigms.

Dolled Up: The Embodied Dissemination of Knowledge of National Dress and Foreign Fashions in Renaissance Europe

Sophie Pitman, M.A. Student in Decorative Arts, Design History, and Material Culture, Bard Graduate Center

In Ben Jonson’s The Staple of News (1625), Pennyboy Junior asks his tailor:

I pray thee tell me, Fashioner, what authors
Thou read’st to help thy invention? Italian prints?
Or Arras hangings? They are tailors’ libraries.

Pennyboy assumes that Fashioner “read[s]” prints or tapestries for inspiration, but the tailor denies this – “I scorn such helps.” Why would the tailor eschew the styles depicted in French tapestries and Italian prints? How, then, were new fashion trends transmitted across Renaissance Europe?

This paper first asserts that printed images of foreign dress were inadequate for the tailor, but were crucial for the maintenance of a state’s identity through established and stable ideas of national costume. It then suggests alternate ways in which fashion was transmitted. Dolls and people embodied fashion news in three-dimension, offering tangible material knowledge for designers and consumers. With reference to a doll from the Swedish Royal Armory, I propose that whilst much information – whether pictorial or verbal, in print or in person – was communicated by men who were more free to travel, dolls enabled female exchange of fashion knowledge – mediating female relationships, containing information about new technology and material, and embodying the fashionable wearer in miniature.

My research is firmly rooted in material culture studies, and draws upon literary and archival material. In tracing networks of communication about dress through prints, maps, tapestries, plays, letters, ambassadorial reports, and dolls, it becomes clear that Renaissance Europeans were fascinated by their own appearances, and by those of others. This interest was not about pure frippery; it was about understanding foreigners in an ever-expanding world and signaling one’s own worldliness. The implications of such a revelation extend far beyond dress history; they reveal the importance and limits of print, travel, gender-roles, international relations, and embodied knowledge in Renaissance Europe. 

“Her maske so hinders mee:” Unmasking Colonial American Women, 1650–1770
Philippe L.B. Halbert, M.A. Student in the Winterthur Program in American Material Culture

In September of 1759, the newly married Colonel George Washington placed an order for various “sundries” from London that included two masks for his new stepdaughter, Patsy Custis. What was Patsy doing with a mask in colonial Virginia? Archival sources confirm that she was not the only person wearing one in Virginia, let alone in the other colonies. Worn to protect the female complexion when outdoors, such masks were imported with regularity in British North America. Anecdotal references to them abound in newspapers, inventories, letters, prints and paintings, plays, and novels; European masks also exist to provide additional information regarding construction and materials.

Made of velvet-covered cardboard, the mask took a circular form with holes cut for the eyes and mouth. It was kept in place by biting onto a bead sewn onto the back, imposing a certain silence on the wearer as it simultaneously afforded her the full advantages of anonymity that accompanied a masked visage. Affixed to and concealing the face and voice almost completely, I interpret these masks as tools with which their wearers could repudiate charges of immodesty and actually exercised symbolic mobility and autonomy in social interactions. Such phenomena did not evade comment and received outright condemnation in contemporary tracts on manners, deportment, and morality.

I argue that this period discourse on masks is revelatory of greater community concerns in the Atlantic world, including the distinction of godliness over sinfulness, the maintenance of gender roles, the construction and manipulation of personal identity, and the demarcation of rank and race as their consumption extended beyond elite or even Anglo-colonial women. As objects of gendered empowerment and independence, masks complicate interpretations of colonial social history.

“You in Navy Blue:” Gender, Fashion, and the Navy WAVES
Shoshana Resnikoff, Collections Fellow, Cranbook Center for Collections and Research

Between 1942 and 1945, the United States military grew an extra appendage in the form of women’s reserves. These units provided new opportunities to American women and led to the eventual integration of women into the Armed Forces. But with these reserves came an unprecedented question: what would these newly minted servicewomen wear? For the Navy WAVES, the answer came from a surprising source: the New York atelier of couturier Mainbocher. Mainbocher made his career in Paris as a designer of haute couture gowns and suits worn by women in the highest strata of society. How did this most posh of designers come to make something so utilitarian as a uniform, what did this commission mean for his aesthetic, and in what ways did the WAVES uniform designs shape the military experiences of the women wearing them?

Over the course of his career, Mainbocher became increasingly invested in issues of control, constraint, and conformity. Meanwhile, naval administration created a women’s reserve that constrained its members and maintained the status quo even as it ostensibly provided them with newfound freedom and independence. Mainbocher’s uniforms thus stand as active agents in both the career of their designer and the lives of the women who wore them. They provided Mainbocher with the opportunity to work his aesthetic ideals and values out onto the bodies of thousands of women while simultaneously determining the Waves’ ambiguous identities, situating them in the uneasy space between civilian and sailor. By closely examining the uniforms this paper seeks to show how they functioned for Mainbocher and the WAVES, unpacking their ability to create aesthetic meaning and determine identities for the two main parties involved in their creation and use and exploring their continued relevance to the thorny issue of clothing women in today’s military.