The Author’s Corner with Stephen Hague

Stephen Hague teaches British, British imperial and modern European history at Rowan University in Glassboro, New Jersey.  This interview is based on his new book, The Gentleman’s House in the BritishAtlantic World, 1680-1780 (Palgrave Macmillan, 2015)
JF: What led you to write The Gentleman’s House in the British Atlantic World?
SH: Before becoming an academic historian, but after graduate training in British history, I worked for a number of years in museums and historic sites.  One site in particular, a house called Stenton in Philadelphia, was especially influential in my thinking.  When I went to work there it struck me how similar Stenton was to small classically-inspired houses dotted not only over the American landscape, but in Britain as well.  Much has of course been written about such houses in America, but it seemed to me that historians, architectural historians and others too often linked these (relatively) small houses in America with very large country houses in Britain.  This approach struck me as comparing apples and oranges. Instead, there seemed more than ample room to investigate similar houses, and, importantly, the people who lived in them, on both sides of the Atlantic. 
On a related note, one book that always troubled me is quite an old book now, Lawrence and Jean Stone’s An Open Elite?, which argued that by analyzing big country houses in Britain it was evident that social mobility had been limited.  The problem I had with their approach is that I had a sense that they had been looking in the wrong place:  big houses rather than the more modest ones that most interested me, and seemed the more likely venue for social change.  Scholars in the 1980s had pointed this out about the Stones’ work, but after twenty-five years no one had done the legwork to investigate further. 
A problem arose when I undertook research in Britain, where it became immediately apparent that this form of house had been almost completely ignored.  The quite extraordinary documentation of American classical houses (Historic structure reports, paint analyses, interpretive plans, archaeological surveys, research reports, extant collections, and so on) was entirely absent on the British side.  As a result, there was an enormous amount of research to be done on the British version of the small classical house, which led to the core of my book, a detailed exploration of one county in England, Gloucestershire. After that, I circled back to the American side to knit my research together into an Atlantic world study that I hope will be revealing for British and early American historians alike.
JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of The Gentleman’s House in the British Atlantic World?
SH: By looking at buildings, landscapes, spatial arrangement, furnishings and people together – a ‘material culture’ approach – we can learn a great deal about how eighteenth-century Britons staked out and defined their social position across the Atlantic world.  Such a social and cultural reading of small classical houses and their owners offers an account of moderate change and well-paced social mobility that reflects Britain’s stable but dynamic growth in the eighteenth century, with a particularly important transition point in the second quarter of the eighteenth century.
JF: Why do we need to read The Gentleman’s House in the British Atlantic World?

SH: From my perspective, perhaps the most important reason to read The Gentleman’s House is because it seeks to break down barriers and build bridges between several bodies of literature.  First, it is an effort to position a material object – a type of house – at the center of analysis and use that as a way of constructing a social group that we can analyze.  Secondly, in so doing I attempt to draw together not only architecture, but spatial arrangements, interiors, furnishings, and the social action that all these things enabled.  In other words, in the first instance the emphasis is on things (i.e. buildings), but the real attention is on people, what they did with and in those things, and what those things represented about them.  Thirdly, the book tells us a lot more about small classical houses in Britain and the genteel people who inhabited them than we have known before, including their many transatlantic links.  Fourthly, it takes exception to American exceptionalism, and seeks to craft a British world narrative that views provincial Britain and British North America similarly.  Viewing the eighteenth century in this holistic way offers, I think, very interesting insights, and helps to make more sense of British society up to (and even after) the American war for independence.  Finally, The Gentleman’s House provides a different perspective on the important issue of social mobility and how eighteenth-century Britons constructed their identities.  The book suggests that houses like these were more about confirming status in British society in a particular position, rather than necessarily aspiring to a more elevated position.  This incremental version of social change is more realistic, and with better explanatory power.
JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?

SH: To be honest, I never did.  I have always thought of myself as a British historian, and teach primarily British and European history.  But having spent years on both sides of the Atlantic, eighteenth-century America has always struck me as quite a British place.  Moreover, having worked in historic sites and museums in America, having looked at American collections, studied material objects in America, and having benefitted particularly from the wisdom of early American colleagues in Philadelphia, it seemed readily apparent that there should be much more communication between early American historians and historians of Britain.  If the book achieves this in even small measure then I will be happy to be co-opted as an American historian!
JF: What is your next project?
SH: As I studied small classical houses for this book, I became increasingly interested in the subsequent use to which they were put, as residences, museums, hospitals, schools, and so on.  This got me thinking more about the way history has been used in various historical revivals and the issue of historical memory and how the past constructs the present.  Although I am still thinking about the exact direction I want to take with my next project, it will be an outgrowth of a forthcoming essay I wrote entitled, “‘Phony Coloney’:  The Reception of the Georgian and the Construction of Twentieth-century America,” due out next year in a volume on the Neo-Georgian movement. Weaving my interest in the eighteenth century together with transatlantic relations, material culture, and the cultural history of the British empire, I am currently (and very tentatively) calling my new project, ‘Interpretations of the Georgian, the Anglo-American Aesthetic and the idea of Greater Britain, 1870-1950’.  I am spending this summer in Britain, reading, researching, and bouncing these ideas around at several conferences and workshops, which is naturally good fun.
JF:  Thanks, Stephen!

The Author’s Corner with Thomas Carter

Tom Carter is Professor of Architectural History at the University of Utah. This interview is based on his new book, Building Zion: The Material World of Mormon Settlement (University of Minnesota Press, March 2015).

JF: What led you to write Building Zion: The Material World of Mormon Settlement?

TC: It began back in the 1970s. I was finishing up at Indiana University’s Folklore Institute and needed a dissertation topic. Mormon folk housing seemed a likely target—no serious study existed and it seemed like a wide open field even for a Presbyterian. At first, especially since I was living in Indiana, I thought to work on Nauvoo. The more I looked into it, however, it became apparent that nothing had been done in Utah either. I chose the Sanpete Valley to study because of its abundant number of old houses, and luckily was to get a survey job with the Utah State Historical Society as a way of funding much of the early fieldwork. After the dissertation, I realized that what I needed to do was to include the whole of the Sanpete built environment in the study, since leaving the temple out of any kind of Mormon architecture study was preposterous. It took a long time to figure it all out, but the book is both handsome and provocation; it should make folks rethink the way they have view early Mormon history and culture. At least, that is my intention, and hope.

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of Building Zion?

TC: The book’s central thesis is that during the years before 1890 the Saints slowly and probably unselfconsciously retooled their material world from a radical apocalyptic to a more normative republican one. Two dates are pivotal in this transformation, 1841, when the Law of Consecration and Stewardship was abandoned in favor of the “lesser” law of tithing, and 1871, when the site for the St.George Temple was shifted from the central square to a location outside town, a move followed in all subsequent temples and one which effectively created both sacred (temple) and secular (town) zones.

JF: Why do we need to read Building Zion​​​​?

TC: Because it’s funny? Well no, not really, though I do think it’s very readable. Everyone should read it because it’s the first systematic study of the Mormon City of Zion, and it argues for a fundamental rethinking of the whole history of the church in the years before 1890.

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?

TC: I probably became a historian back in 1960. I was 11 and asthmatic and it was the centennial of the Civil War. There were all these histories coming out, many very accessible to youngsters like me, and my mother got me into reading them. I was hooked on history, and also became a devoted pacifist. Who could read these stuff and not be horrified. Such stupidity.

JF: What is your next project?

TC: I am finishing a detail history of the architecture of early cattle ranching in northeastern Elko County, Nevada. This area is home to the region’s oldest ranches, and also where my family is from. It’s called Sagebrush Cities: The Cultural Landscape of …. I hope to have it done by this time next year. Now that I’m retired, it’s easier to find time to write.

JF: Sounds exciting, thanks Tom!

And thanks to Megan Piette for facilitating this installment of The Author’s Corner

The Author’s Corner with Sally Dwyer-McNulty

Sally Dwyer-McNulty is Associate Professor of History and Chair of the History Department at Marist College in Poughkeepsie, New York.  This interview is based on her book Common Threads: A Cultural History of Clothing in American Catholicism(University of North Carolina Press, 2014).

JF: What led you to write Common Threads?
SDM: When I was conducting my dissertation research, I examined yearbooks from the first diocesan high school for girls in the country, the John W. Hallahan Catholic Girls’ High School in Philadelphia. While looking at the yearbooks, I was surprised to see that throughout the early years of the high school, the girls were not in uniform. The students from 1911 to 1923 came to school in a variety of outfits, and then in 1924, the “civilian clothes” were gone, and the student appeared in uniforms. Even though clothing and uniforms were not on my radar as far as a topic (for that dissertation chapter I was looking at how educational approaches in Catholic girls’ schools changed between 1920 and 1962), the observation about the clothing stuck with me. After finishing my dissertation, I began working at an art college, Moore College of Art and Design in Philadelphia. It was in this creative and visually-charged environment that I decide to go back to those yearbooks and dig a little. I wondered why the school would choose uniforms in 1924 and why and how the phenomenon spread. In my mind, the Catholic school uniform was an iconic aspect of Catholic culture. But I realized that icons, too, have a beginning. The uniform query turned into a conference paper, and then a published article. After that I began to think about other examples of Catholic attire and new questions began to form. Putting all my questions together became the book proposal

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Common Threads?

SDM: I contend that the adoption and consistent use of Roman collars, religious habits, and Catholic school uniforms in America was not inevitable, but rather it was a strategic and meaningful choice. Once adopted, Catholic clothing became, and continues to be, a significant means of cultural identity, communication, and political expression both within and beyond the church.

JF: Why do we need to read Common Threads?
SDM: There are many reasons to read Common Threads, but I will focus on just two. First, it fills a significant gap in both American and Catholic cultural history. Distinctly clad Catholics (men, women, and youth) are part of many Americans’ personal experience. Likewise, outfitted Catholics are characterized in American literature, television, and film. Nevertheless, until now, there hasn’t been a single study devoted to understanding the Catholic clothing phenomenon. Observers and practitioners of Catholicism often recognize that clothing plays a role in Catholic expression and identity, but what they don’t often appreciate is the history of this iconic feature or the intra and extra- Catholic politics surrounding these wearable symbols. This study begins to address that lacuna with an accessible resource on the history and significance of Catholic clothing in America. 

And second, this study is timely. News coverage of people, issues, and event within Catholicism seems to have grown over the last decade. The activities of women religious, Catholic school closings, sexual abuse by priests, debates on homosexuality, and the distinctive leadership (and attire)  of three different pontiffs has introduced Americans to one or more issues, often controversial, regarding Catholicism. Common Threads, by examining such long swath of history, 1830s to the present, provides the historical background as well as a unique lens, material culture, from which to understand Catholic values, history, and politics.

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?

SDM: I always enjoyed history classes in high school, but I didn’t consider history as a career until I attended college. When I went to college I became enchanted by the possibility of doing what my professors did. They read what appeared to be countless books, traveled for research, presented at conferences where they would meet up with old friends from graduate school, and best of all conducted terrific classes. I enjoyed listening to lecture as well as participating in discussions. Finally, all my professors dressed comfortably. That might not seem important now with so many workplaces adopting casual attire, but in the 1980s both men and women often wore suits to work.  As a 20 year old – I felt I could read, discuss, and write in comfy clothes my whole life. It was then that I decided to be a historian. I chose American history because I was fascinated with American culture during the Cold War. I just couldn’t get enough of it. My passion for American religious history came later – after I read Susan A. Glenn’s, Daughters of the Shtetl: Life and Labor in the Immigrant Generation. Then I was hooked on the interplay between history and religion.

JF: What is your next project?

SDM: I am planning an oral history project to gain a better understanding of the lived experience of Catholics and maybe even non-Catholics who wore Catholic clothing. When I talk to students, colleagues, friends, and strangers about Common Threads, more often than not, someone shares a Catholic clothing story with me. Some tales are serious and some humorous. For instance, a friend of mine just told me a funny story on the way to a conference. He attended an all-boy high school in Toronto in the mid-1980s. Close-fitting trousers were in vogue at the time and young men narrowed the trousers of their pants to keep in style. The religious men who ran the school did not approve of the “skinny” look and made a rule that pants had to be wide enough so a student could take off his trousers without removing his shoes first. According to my friend, a teacher would stop tapered pants wearer in the hall and just say, “Take off your pants.” Clearly, that was one way to get the students to wear looser fitting trousers. In all seriousness, though, I’d like to learn more about what Catholic-identified clothing meant to the people who wore it and how they viewed its significance. Common Threads provides an introduction to the topic of Catholic attire, but there is much more on the topic to consider and I am looking forward to that undertaking.

JF:  Thanks, Sally!  Great stuff.  For other installments of The Author’s Series click here.

Teaching Beyond Tea Sets: Assessing Source Material in the U.S. History Survey

A few months ago I did a post on Abby Chandler‘s excellent piece “Teaching with a Tea Set.”  It appeared in the April 2014 issue of Perspectives on History.  In response to that post I wrote:  “I have long been interested in bringing objects into my survey course but have never felt I was enough of a material culture expert to use them effectively.  Chandler’s essay has forced me to reconsider my cautiousness on this pedagogical front, especially since her essay is focused largely on the first half of the survey.” 

After that post appeared, Abby and I had a few e-mail exchanges and she agreed to develop her thoughts on teaching with objects for The Way of Improvement Leads Home readers.  (It’s an exclusive, folks!)  In the piece below she talks about how she uses objects to assess student learning.  I encourage you to read it alongside her original Perspectives in History essay.  –JF

Teaching Beyond Tea Sets: Assessing Source Material in the U.S. History Survey
By Abigail Chandler, University of Massachusetts at Lowell

Once my students have been introduced to a wide range of source material including material culture, primary source documents, period music, art and films, I also use these sources when evaluating their learning outcomes on both the second and third exams of the semester.
The test covering the nineteenth century gives students with an object recently seen in class, asks them to provide both identification and historical context of the object and then discuss the use of material culture when studying history. Test objects can be selected to play to the strengths and weaknesses of individual classes and I also try to select objects with multiple layers of interpretation available to students. A Noah’s Ark is deceptively difficult as most students are familiar with the toy before the class. Here, the challenge becomes whether they can fully link the object to the Industrial Revolution and the rise of specific middle-class values and lifestyles in the nineteenth century. The less easily identified glove stretcher serves a dual purpose on tests: attentive students have the satisfaction of knowing they now possess the skills needed to identify and interpret a glove stretcher and frequently absent students are provided with a reminder of the importance of attending class. On the whole, I find these essays both interesting and rewarding to grade as they give students opportunities to develop their own analytical and contextual skills.
I also have a bonus question on the final exam which asks students to identify their favorite source and to explain why and how this particular source appealed to them. This question provides insight into the minds of students encouraged to think about history in ways they had rarely considered before taking the class. In preparation for this paper, I asked permission to quote from their tests in order to give a fuller sense of their responses. One wrote that “being the only one in the class who could identify a stereoscope made me feel like a genius.” Another added “I believe that using music . . . shows how we can connect with the past. Each piece illustrated how life was. The music and songs were packed with emotions that were felt at the time.” A third commented that“material culture was what won me over. I am never going to forget that middle class men and women had glove stretchers because I held and felt it, and then reflected on it.”
            Without doubt, these are all comments to warm the heart of any history professor. More importantly, student responses help me to identify which sources are working, which may need more contextualization in the classroom and what sources should be removed all together. They also encourage me to reflect, in turn, on how I use source material in the history classroom and to what pedagogical ends. Most students who identify themselves as visual learners in their responses then explain that they enjoy the objects because they helped them to learn history in ways that the printed sources could not. Though aware of (and actively implementing) the extensive body of research demonstrating that students learn in different ways, I have wondered whether some students may decide their ability to connect best with the objects justifies giving less attention to the printed sources or vice versa. Consequently, my next semester will be opening with a more structured discussion of learning methods intended to encourage students to experiment with their responses to different sources. Students who think of themselves as visual learners will be encouraged to develop their skills with interpreting primary source documents, while students who prefer written sources will be encouraged to consider the period objects more closely and so on. The means by which these efforts are fully implemented remains a project for the summer and their success rate an unknown for the next academic year but I look forward to the latest transition in my evolution from living history interpreter to history professor. 

Using Obects in the U.S. History Survey Course

Anyone who teaches the United States history survey course should check out Abby Chandler‘s insightful piece, “Teaching with a Tea Set,” in the April 2014 issue of Perspective on History.  I have long been interested in bringing objects into my survey course but have never felt I was enough of a material culture expert to use them effectively.  Chandler’s essay has forced me to reconsider my cautiousness on this pedagogical front, especially since her essay is focused largely on the first half of the survey.  Here is a taste:

I find historical objects particularly helpful when discussing broader transitions in labor, consumer goods, and trade networks. I pass a sugarloaf wrapped in blue paper around the room just before talking about taxation in the colonies in the 1760s. As the students feel the hard sugar beneath the paper, I ask them why 18th-century merchants chose to ship and sell their sugar in hard cones, rather than the loose sugar we buy now. Students eventually conclude that sugar was so valuable that merchants did not want to risk losing spilled sugar if a barrel broke open, and this can lead directly into a discussion of why sugar was one of the first products to be taxed by the British Parliament after the French and Indian War.
My lecture on the French and Indian War and Seven Years War finishes by examining the impact that emerging global trade networks had on middle- and upper-class households in the American colonies. To help illustrate these changes, I use the a tea set made for “Felicity,” an 18th-century American Girl doll that has a tea cup without a handle and its saucer, a wooden tea chest, and a silver spoon. Many of the American Girl historical dolls are sanitized, contemporary-influenced versions of the past, particularly as they relate to race and gender—my husband, for example, refers to the Felicity doll as the “upwardly mobile shopkeeper’s daughter.” Nevertheless, the accessories made for the dolls are intended to be accurate reproductions of historical items, and they do provide a wide array of options for classroom use. The fact that they are miniatures (which students must be reminded of) means they are easily moved from office to classroom and back again.
I ask students to consider the way the cup was made: the lack of a handle denotes a cup made in Asia, which in turn suggests the family can afford imported china. Then I pass the tea chest around the room. Students sometimes struggle with the more abstract concepts posed by mercantilism, but a wooden tea chest brings to life the idea that wood was harvested in North America, sent to Britain to be planed and shaped into a chest equipped with metal handles, and then shipped back to the colonies for purchase as a finished product. As background for these discussions, I recommend Rodris Roth’s article “Tea-Drinking in Eighteenth-Century America: Its Etiquette and Equipage,” which links the objects and the rituals connected with tea drinking in the British Empire in the mid-18th century.

101 Objects and American History

By Megan Piette

It seems impossible to choose 101 objects – out of 137 million options – to tell the story of America. However, Richard Kurin, the under secretary of history, art, and culture at the Smithsonian Museum, has done exactly that with his new book, The Smithsonian’s History of America in 101 Objects. Some of Kurin’s choices are unique, like Benjamin Franklin’s walking stick or the 525 million-year-old Burgess Shale.  He explains on the Museum of American History blog that each object relates to the history of America in a way that could never be fully explained in a book.  Here is a taste of his post:

A lot of people think history is boring. They remember some awful history class they had to take in junior high school, but we’ve got 30 million people who voluntarily take history every year, walking into our museums. To me, it’s easier to approach history through an object. It hits you in a sensory way, rather than having to memorize something you can’t see; it’s tangible. Objects also relocate you.

Glenn Beck’s Museum

Glenn Beck displayed some serious historical artifacts at his recent “Man in the Moon” event in Salt Lake City.  Here is a video from a local Salt Lake City television station:

Believe it or not, David Barton has something to do with this museum.  Here is a taste of an article that appeared last week in the Deseret News in which Barton discusses the collection of Brent Ashworth, the antiquarian who put part of his collection on display at the Man in the Moon event:

The reason Brent is important is because he believes history can repeat itself,” Barton said. “If you believe history doesn’t repeat itself and we can’t learn from it, then guys like Brent aren’t important.

“What Brent’s got is not only one of the most unique collections in the world, but especially important for Americans, because it shows us what we’ve done wrong — things we should repeat and things we shouldn’t repeat,” Barton said. “The problem is when you get in a sterile classroom, they can make it look like anything they want. But when you pull out the original artifacts, that adds a whole other level of credibility.

I commend Beck for displaying these artifacts to the public in this way.  I am glad that so many people got to see them. I also commend Barton for encouraging us to learn something from these artifacts, although I don’t understand the point he is trying to make with the “history repeats itself” line as it relates to Ashworth’s collection.

But there is more to history than the display of artifacts.  These artifacts are mere antiquarian curiosities until they are interpreted.  And despite Barton’s skepticism about classroom history, the classroom is precisely the place where these kinds of  interpretive stories should be told. The act of placing such artifacts in context and understanding them in relationship to other objects and stories is what brings meaning to this kind of material culture.  This is the essence of doing history.

For example, the Arnold Friberg painting of George Washington praying in the snow at Valley Forge (pictured above) tells us more about 1975 (the year it was painted), Mormonism (Friberg was a Mormon), or popular art than about what happened at Valley Forge in the winter of 1777-1778.  As I argued in Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?: A Historical Introduction (with the help of other scholars), the event as portrayed in this photo probably never happened.

I have no doubt that Beck and Barton told some interesting stories about these documents and artifacts during the Man in the Moon event, but if their track record is any guide I am skeptical about how successful they employed the so-called “5cs of Historical Thinking” in the process.

I say more about this approach to historical thinking, and even have a few things to say about Beck and Barton, in my forthcoming Why Study History: Reflecting on the Importance of the Past.  It will be available in early September.

Hat tip to Kevin Lynch at Past is Present blog for calling my attention to some of the links in this post.

American Material Culture Conference

Program—2013 Emerging Scholars Symposium

Embodied Objects: Material Culture Studies in Three Dimensions

Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library  (directions)

Saturday, April 20, 2013
Copeland Lecture Hall, Winterthur Museum
(Print Program)

8:15 am   Registration

8:45 am   Welcome
9:00 am   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

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

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

Commentator: Cynthia G. Falk, Associate Professor of Material Culture, Cooperstown Graduate Program

10:20 am   Break: Tea and Coffee in Winterthur Café

10:50 am    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

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

“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

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

Commentator: Martin Brückner, Associate Professor in English and Material Culture Studies, University of Delaware

12:30 pm   Lunch: Garden Café at the Visitors’ Center

Please take this time to explore Winterthur’s gardens and exhibition galleries. The exhibition Common Destinations: Maps in the American Experience opens today.

2:00 pm    Keynote Address

Introduction: Sandy Isenstadt, Associate Professor of Art History, University of Delaware

Speaker: Jennifer Jane Marshall, Assistant Professor of Art History, University of Minnesota, Twin Cities

2:45 pm   Break

3:00 pm   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

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

“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

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

Commentator: Jennifer van Horn, Adjunct Professor of Art History, George Mason University

4:45 pm   Roundtable discussion of papers and concluding remarks

5:30 pm   Tours of Winterthur collection (advance registration encouraged)

Study Historic Preservation on Nantucket Island This Summer

Main Street, Nantucket, MA

If you have $1850, you can spend a week this summer on Nantucket studying historic preservation as part of Bucks County (PA) Community College’s Historic Preservation Program.

First of all, I had no idea that Bucks County Community College had a recognized program in historic preservation.  ( I used to live in Bucks County).  For that matter, I didn’t think any community college had a program in historic preservation.  This is great!

Second, this sounds like a great week.  Students are responsible for their own meals and transportation, but housing is provided.

Here is the announcement:

For the first time, Bucks County Community College’s award-winning Historic Preservation program is offering two courses this summer in Nantucket, Massachusetts.

The BCCC Summer Preservation Institute takes place August 3 – 17 at the Preservation Institute: Nantucket, a World Heritage Research and Stewardship center owned by the University of Florida.

Students have the chance to earn six credits over two weeks, as each three-credit course will be offered in an intense, one-week format. Historic American Building Survey Workshop takes place August 3 – 10, followed by Preservation Field Studies August 10 – 17.  Classes will be limited to 10 students per class. 

“These courses offer each student a superb experiential educational opportunity in an historic setting,” explains Pat Fisher-Olson, coordinator of the Historic Preservation Program at Bucks. “They’ll get to see first-hand how these structures are challenged daily by severe atmospheric conditions on the island.” 

Each course runs for seven days, from Saturday afternoon to Saturday morning. In the first class, Historic American Building Survey (HABS) Workshop, a team of students will hand draw a rendering of a landmark Nantucket beach cedar shake house for their course project.  A program of the National Park Service, HABS utilizes the most accepted and archival documentation standards for historical buildings. Scaled measured drawings will be produced.

In the second course, Preservation Field Studies, students will explore preservation philosophies and methodologies of the built structures of the historic whaling island listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Students will compare and contrast the preservation successes and failures of Bucks County and Nantucket Island.
Classes will be taught by Bucks professors Kathryn Auerbach and Pat Fisher-Olsen, who will lead discussions with students, guest lecturers, and local preservationists.  Auerbach and Fisher-Olsen are recipients of the prestigious Charles E. Petersen Prize for measured drawings.

Participants will be housed in a University of Florida-owned dormitory located within walking distance from the academic studio.  Housing costs for the week are included in the fee.  Students provide their own transportation and meals, except for a welcome breakfast and closing BBQ dinner.

Tuition and room for Bucks County and other Pennsylvania residents is $1,850 for the HABS workshop, and $1,925 for Preservation Field Studies. For out-of-state residents, fees are $2,615 for the HABS workshop, and $2,685 for field studies.

The deadline to apply for these unique courses is Friday, April 19. For more information and an application form, visit  To learn more, contact Pat Fisher-Olsen at 215-968-8286 or

Prized Artifacts of the Garden State

If you are interested in the history of New Jersey I encourage you to check out (and subscribe to) Gordon Bond’s online magazine, “Garden State Legacy.”  It is your one-stop shop for all things Jersey.   The website contains sample articles, a speakers bureau, and a directory of local historical sites.  It is a very useful public history resource:

The most recent issue is entitled “Prized Artifacts From the Garden State.”  Bond asked New Jersey’s historical sites, museums, archives, and libraries to “identify three artifacts from their collections which they most-prize for their historical significance.” These cultural institutions responded and Bond has assembled stories and pictures of their treasures in the magazine (and what appears to be a future book). 

Learn about the original program from the “Pageant of the Paterson Silk Strike” at the American Labor Museum in Haledon; early lifeguard surfboards at the Avalon Public Free Library History Center; neon signs from the Doo Wop Experience and Neon Sign Garden in Wildwood; and a mahogany clock from Liberty Hall Museum in Union.

A lot of what Bond is doing here reminds me of the “History Harvest” idea made popular by the University of Nebraska. 

Great work!

"The Vault" at

I don’t know how I missed this. 

Rebecca Onion, a post-doc at the Philadelphia Area Center for History of Science, runs a fabulous blog at called The Vault. The focus is on primary documents and objects presented in a big and bold style that makes for easy reading and digesting. Here is a taste of her introductory post

Every weekday, we’ll publish one archival document or object of visual and historical interest. Here you’ll find carefully selected photographs, pamphlets, maps, buttons, toys, letters, ledgers, and the occasional lock of hair, along with a bit of explanation to give you some context for what you’re seeing. Just this week we’ll be looking at Benedict Arnold’s loyalty oath, a microscope set for girls of the 1950s, and a memo from a Nixon aide pleading with the president to call the Space Shuttle the Space Clipper instead.

British novelist L.P. Hartley once wrote “The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.” The Vault is on a permanent world tour; consider these objects your souvenirs.

It looks like Rebecca and her friends have been posting faithfully since November 2012 so it should be easy to get up to speed.  Here are some of my favorite posts thus far:

East German Mother Passes Her Baby to Freedom Across the Berlin Wall

When Citizen Vigilantes Busted Food Hoarders

This Pay Chart Shows Exactly How Louisiana Used To Discriminate Against Black Teachers

Coping With A Raging Case Of Beatlemania 

A Mysterious Failed Prophecy From the Smithsonian’s Archives 

First Lady Grace Coolidge Loved Her Raccoon, Rebecca

Kurt Vonnegut’s 1967 Advice to a New Teacher at the Iowa Writer’s Workshop

Teaching History with Objects

Over at U.S. History Scene, Hillary Murtha has a great piece on teaching American history with objects.  She shows how to use a wristwatch as a window into the culture of the 1960s “race to the moon.”

Here are Murtha’s “final thoughts”:

I have chosen here to interpret the Moonwatch primarily as evidence of cultural responses to the socio-political trends in the 1960s and 70s. Obviously, it could be viewed in other contexts: for example as having a particular place within the history of American time-keeping, from the sundial to the standard-time railway schedule, from the factory-bell to the punch-clock, from the village tower-clock to the satellite signals sent to today’s mobile devices. If we were examining the Moonwatch in this relationship, we would be interested in the nature of its works (hand-wound, pre-dating both the self-winding feature and the quartz crystal movement) and in how representative a timepiece it was in 1970s America. The context in which an object is viewed determines the nature of our inquiries into it.

Any history teacher who wishes to incorporate material culture into his/her lesson plans can  search available databases for appropriate articles from material-culture based journals (some of which I have listed below). They may also consider consulting the curators of local history museums and historic societies about relevant objects the institutions may hold in their collections. Most elementary school students have the experience of being taken on a field trip to a history museum where they see a recreated colonial or pioneer kitchen, witness a demonstration of the spinning wheel, blacksmithing, or some other handcraft, and learn through re-enactment, how people ate, worked, dressed “back then.” Unfortunately, instead of taking this material-culture based learning experience to more sophisticated and adult levels as students move into secondary school and beyond, it is generally abandoned. As the history profession is becoming more receptive to material culture studies, and beginning to acknowledge that the field employs a set of methodologies as rigorous and exacting as the more traditionalist interpretations of documentary evidence, secondary and college-level instructors can mine the field and enrich their student’s classroom experiences.

David Morgan Discusses Material Religion

I recently found this podcast with David Morgan of Duke University.  Listen here.

Here is a description of the podcast from The Religious Studies Project.

The study of religion and materiality is an important and fast-growing sub-discipline in the contemporary Religious Studies scene. According to the editors of the premier journal in this area, the aptly named ‘Material Religion‘, scholars in this area

explore how religion happens in material culture – images, devotional and liturgical objects, architecture and sacred space, works of arts and mass-produced artifacts. No less important than these material forms are the many different practices that put them to work. Ritual, communication, ceremony, instruction, meditation, propaganda, pilgrimage, display, magic, liturgy and interpretation constitute many of the practices whereby religious material culture constructs the worlds of belief.

In this interview with Chris, Professor David Morgan takes the listener on an exciting tour of what this field has to offer, providing his own definition of material religion, and discussing empirical case studies and theoretical insights relating to religion in popular consumer culture, the sacred gaze, space and place, the internet, and more.

David Morgan is Professor of Religion with a secondary appointment in the Department of Art, Art History, and Visual Studies at Duke. He received his Ph.D. at the University of Chicago in 1990. He has published several books and dozens of essays on the history of religious visual culture, on art history and critical theory, and on religion and media. His most recent book is The Embodied Eye: Religious Visual Culture and the Social Life of Feeling (California, 2012). Recent works include: The Lure of Images: A History of Religion and Visual Media in America (Routledge, 2007) and two volumes that Morgan edited and contributed to: Religion and Material Culture: The Matter of Belief (Routledge, 2010) and Key Words in Religion, Media, and Culture (Routledge, 2008). Earlier works include Visual Piety (University of California Press, 1998), Protestants and Pictures (Oxford, 1999), and The Sacred Gaze (California, 2005). Morgan is co-founder and co-editor of the international scholarly journal, Material Religion, and co-editor of a book series at Routledge entitled “Religion, Media, and Culture.”

Object Monologues

Are you looking for a way to teach history with objects.  Here is a great post, from The New York Times Learning Network, about how to let objects speak in your history classroom. 

Here is a taste:

Students create and present a monologue (an extended speech spoken by one person usually addressed to someone, either the reader, spectators, or an imagined second character) as if from the point of view of an object they have read about in a newspaper article, work of literature or historical account.

Ask students: What would this object say if it could talk and wanted to tell us about its history? Where has it been? What it has done? What events it has witnessed? Tell them that the object should tell about its past and present, but also about its hopes for the future.

Each monologue should have a clear beginning, middle and end, and should be written and delivered in the first person (“I” and “me”).

Once students have finished writing, have each practice delivering his or her monologue in pairs or small groups until they have a dramatic presentation they feel befits the object and its story. For example, how would this object “speak” differently than this one? (Images from, respectively, “New Fossils Indicate Early Branching of Human Family Tree” and “A Lou Gehrig Treasure Trove.”)

Beck’s $30 Million "Roller Coaster History Lesson"

Glenn Beck is going to give the nation a history lesson on Saturday night.  I don’t know if I want to pull myself away from Phelps and Lochte to watch it, but his talk at “Beckstock,” um, I mean “Restoring Love” should be interesting to say the least. 

In this interview with Bill O’Reilly, Beck announces that he will have $30 million worth of historical artifacts with him on the field at Dallas Cowboys Stadium.  As I reported earlier this week, Beck claims to “unveil a piece of history that has never been seen before” that will “explain who we are as a nation.” the latest video at

In all seriousness, Beck deserves credit for being consistent with his small government views.  As he mentions in the O’Reilly interview, he will have over 35,000 of his followers on the streets of Dallas on Friday morning performing acts of service to the community.  As Beck puts it, “If we want small government that means someone else has to do it, and that means us, and it is our responsibility.”  If Beck’s vision for “restoring love” or “restoring the culture” is about serving others in our communities, then I am all for it. But something tells me that there is more to it than this.

Wait a minute, isn’t this kind of community service a form of social activism?  Does this mean that Beck is a community organizer?

As readers of this blog know, Beck and I have had our moments.  But I must commend him for this aspect of Restoring Love. 

As for the history lesson:  Well, we will just have to wait and see. 

Should You Use Flour to Read a Gravestone?

This is new to me, but I found it interesting so I thought I would do a post on it.  Apparently there is a big debate going on in gravestone-reading circles about whether or not flour, a substance often used to help read faded old gravestones, will damage the stone.

 Dick Eastman weighs in at his genealogy newsletter:

William Jerry (Champ) Champion has created a YouTube video that shows a quick and easy way to read and photograph grave markers that are worn or have become discolored. In years past, genealogists have used a variety of materials to improve legibility of tombstones, from shaving cream to chalk and a variety of other materials. However, most of those methods reportedly damage the stone to some extent. Many of the materials are abrasive and also may leave chemicals behind that cause long-term damage. However, Champ claims the use of flour creates no damage.

Not everyone agrees. Some so-called “experts” will tell you that flour is harmful because it can penetrate into small pores of the stone, and, when wet, the flour will swell and can cause flaking of the stone. Some also claim that flour contains yeast, which encourages the growth of lichens and micro-organisms that can then live and grow in the stone, causing expansion and cracking. Technically, flour does not contain yeast when first ground. However, yeast floats in the air most everywhere and may land on flour, where it may flourish.

I do question the qualifications of all these so-called “experts.” I therefore turned to the Association for Gravestone Studies’ web site as this is the nationally-recognized expert organization. I’d believe whatever the Association for Gravestone Studies says. The Association’s web site at has a long list of things to never do, and it cautions, “Don’t use shaving cream, chalk, graphite, dirt, or other concoctions in an attempt to read worn inscriptions.” Flour is not mentioned although it might qualify as an “other concoction.”

Deerfield Dispatch #5

Katie Garland checks in from the Deerfield Summer Fellowship Program. Read the previous volumes of the Deerfield Dispatch here. -JF 

When I decided to get a history degree without a teaching certificate, I somewhat naively thought that I would be escaping the teaching business.  My parents are both teachers and I thought that I would try something different.  This summer has taught me otherwise.  Through the process of guiding at Historic Deerfield as part of the Summer Fellowship Program, I have discovered that I have some sort of innate teacher gene.  It turns out that I love talking to people about history!  I am actually not altogether surprised that I enjoy guiding. Guiding was one of the parts of the program that I was most looking forward to.  However, I am surprised by just how much fun it is.

I have now given tours in two houses. Frary House, the first house that I guided in, tells the story of C. Alice Baker and the Historic Preservation and Arts and  Crafts Movements in Deerfield in the 1890s and 1900s. Ashley House, my second house, explores the life of Reverend Jonathan Ashley, the town’s Congregationalist minister in the mid 1700s, and also exhibits part of Historic Deerfield’s fabulous decorative arts collection.

These houses were both a little difficult for me.  We only have three days to learn the stories of the people as well as the various objects before we give our first tour.  Since I am most familiar with early American history, Frary House was a little bit out of my area of expertise.  Also, I have been primarily exposed to written history, so touring in Ashley House, a gallery of early American furniture, was a little bit intimidating as well.

Despite these challenges, I thoroughly enjoy giving tours in both houses.  Museum visitors are wonderful because they are voluntary learners.  They chose to come to the site and usually are genuinely interested in history, the decorative arts, or at the very least, pretty objects. Thus, they tend to pay attention and also ask insightful questions.  I appreciate questions because they force me to think on my feet, and allow me to expand on subjects that I know about, but do not have time to include in the regular tour.

For me, the joy of guiding is its direct connection with visitors. Curators and other museum staff certainly have integral jobs, but they do not get to communicate their love of objects and the past directly to the public very often.  There is something wonderful about speaking with visitors, teaching them about the site and its history, and watching them create emotional bonds with the place.

On a recent field trip to Hancock Shaker Village in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, one of the museum staff members told us, “We are not in the history business.  We are not in the museum business.  We are not in the education business.  We ARE in the relationship business.”  He was explaining that without connections between the staff, the site, and visitors, museums cannot survive.  While his approach may be a little bit extreme (I do think that he is in the history, museum, and education business!), I understand where he is coming from. Museum visitors must find a personal connection with the objects that they see and the stories that they hear in order for the information to be memorable and for the visit to be worthwhile.

Successful guiding should facilitate that relationship.  I realize that the visitors on my tours will not remember the details that I tell them.  However, I hope that they walk away with a connection to Historic Deerfield and a deeper appreciation for its past.

Picture – Ashley House

Deerfield Dispatch: Volume 1

Katie Garland, a history major at Messiah College, is spending her summer in Historic Deerfield as one of seven college students chosen to participate in the prestigious Deerfield Summer Fellowship Program. Katie will be immersed in an “all-expenses-paid intensive nine-week living-learning program that offers a rare behind the scenes view of the workings of a museum and a thorough investigation of early New England history and material life.”

I asked Katie if she would be willing to provide us with regular reports on her Deerfield experience and she has graciously agreed to do so.

What follows is Katie’s first “Deerfield Dispatch.” She introduces us to the historic town of Deerfield and compares the town to two other eighteenth-century places where she has visited–Williamsburg, VA and Greenwich, NJ.  (Katie is a research associate with the Greenwich Tea Burning Project). 

Having lived here about a week now, I am very aware of how Historic Deerfield compares to other historical town museums.  Before leaving home, whenever people would ask me what Deerfield was like, I would describe it as the smaller, New England version of Colonial Williamsburg. Well, it turns out that is only half true.  While Deerfield is similar to Williamsburg, it also reminds me of Greenwich, New Jersey, where I worked for a week last year as part of the Greenwich Tea Burning Project

As far as I know, Colonial Williamsburg was born when the Rockefeller family came to the town with their ideas and pocketbook, and crafted Williamsburg into a tourist attraction.  Their particular vision of colonial America is apparent in the town and organization today.

Historic Deerfield had a similar birth.  When Henry and Helen Flynt dropped their son off at Deerfield Academy, they fell in love with the area and immediately bought their own house in the town. Over time, they gradually began to buy and preserve houses in town, and fill them with furniture and other antiques.  In the beginning, Historic Deerfield largely existed to showcase their collections which illustrated their particular view of colonial America, but over time the museum has become more purposeful in telling a nuanced story of the past through the Flynt collection.

While Colonial Williamsburg and Historic Deerfield have similar origins, they are quite different today.  Visitors to Williamsburg are immersed in the culture of the late 1700s. The town is virtually free of 21st century trappings and people who live in Colonial Williamsburg are asked to keep modern objects out of the sight of visitors.  Not so in Deerfield.  The people who live here are free to park their cars in the street, their grills on the driveway, and their children’s play sets in the backyard.  As a result, Deerfield feel a bit more alive. It feels like a real community.

In this way, Historic Deerfield is more like Greenwich, New Jersey.  According to local Greenwich lore, the town had the opportunity to become a Colonial Williamsburg, but turned down the offer because it did not want to become too touristy.  However, it still embraces its early roots and walking down the main street feels a little bit like walking back through time.  But, like Deerfield, Greenwich is an active community in the present as well and has not abandoned its present story entirely in favor of the past.

Deerfield and Greenwich also both derive their historic importance from a single important event.  Greenwich’s historical identity relates to a tea burning when residents were protesting British tea taxes.  Over time, the tea burning became the town’s identity, especially after women organized the construction of the monument commemorating the event in the early 20th century.

Likewise, Deerfield was put on the map in 1704 when the town was attacked by French and Indian raiders as part of Queen Anne’s War. At least 38 Deerfield residents were killed in the attack, 112 were captured and taken to Canada, and most of the village was burned. The most famous of those kidnapped was the town’s minister, Reverend John Williams, who returned and penned “The Redeemed Captive Returned to Zion” in 1707.  His record of the event and life in Canada became a best-seller and established the town’s destiny and identity.  As in Greenwich, women were largely responsible for keeping the history of the town alive and paving the way for the Flynt’s leadership a generation later.

Thus,Deerfield is a hybrid of two very different historical towns.  Like Greenwich, it obtains its historical power from a single event which has defined its identity, and was largely preserved by women.  Like Williamsburg, the historical organization which controls interpretation of that history was created in the early 20th century.

I am looking forward to learning about Historic Deerfield in the next two months and discovering its particular niche in American museums, as well as learning about material culture and the ways that it can influence the stories that historians tell about the past. 

The picture shows the Wright House, where Katie is living for the summer.  Notice the cars in the driveway.  This is something that you would never see in Colonial Williamsburg.

The Story Behind Godey’s Lady Book

I am doing a directed reading this semester with a student who is interested in early American material culture.  Today we discussed Richard Bushman’s The Refinement of America.  I read this book in graduate school, but upon reading it again I remembered just how good this book is and just how valuable it was to me as I wrote The Way of Improvement Leads Home.

On several occasions throughout the book, Bushman discusses Godey’s Lady Book, a fashion and conduct guide for women that was best selling periodical in Victorian America.

Over at Past is Present, the blog of the American Antiquarian Society, intern Susan Lydon provides some historical context for this very valuable primary source.

Here is a taste:

Leaf through the pages of Glamour or Vogue in mid-March and the inventory will reveal that American fashion designers’ thoughts have turned to the spring line.  Here at the American Antiquarian Society, when our thoughts turn to fashion, they turn to hoopskirts and side curls and to the famed fashion plates of Godey’s Lady’s Book.  As March is women’s history month, we thought it the perfect time to examine this “Lady’s Book.”

As you might know, Godey’s Lady’s Book was the number one selling periodical in Victorian America.  Mr. Godey himself calculated the number of readers at a million by the eve of the Civil War.  You might also know that the colored fashion plates at the beginning of the magazine were its most famed component.  But did you know that the colored plates were hand painted?  That the ‘lady editor’ of the magazine was vehemently opposed to including fashion plates in a woman’s periodical?  That the magazine played an integral role in establishing Thanksgiving as a national holiday?  That hoopskirts were gigantic during the Civil War?  All of this information and more can be found in original issues of Godey’s Lady’s Book in the collections at the American Antiquarian Society along with secondary source material on the creation of the magazine.  Godey’s Lady’s Book contains not only a wealth of information about Victorian fashion but also about the culture of bygone America. 

The ‘lady editor’ of Godey’s Lady’s Book was Sarah Josepha Hale, a literary-minded social reformer whose civic-minded zeal rivaled that of Lucretia Mott and Harriet Beecher Stowe.  She edited the magazine along with its owner, Louis A. Godey, from 1837 to 1877.  Many are familiar with Hale solely for her authorship of “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” but Sarah Hale’s accomplishments reached far beyond a poem for children.  Formal education for women at the time was scant.  Hale derived much of her education from a brother who attended Dartmouth College and tutored Sarah at home.  After losing her husband at a young age, Hale went on to support her family through literary means, successfully submitting novels and shorter pieces to publishers.  She edited the Boston-based Ladies’ Magazine, the first women’s magazine in America.  In the magazine, she included original literary pieces by American authors, an unusual practice at a time when American magazines borrowed largely from those of Europe.  As editor, she promoted women’s education and worthy social causes.  She spearheaded the completion of the Bunker Hill Monument and founded the Seaman’s Aid Society of Boston to give monetary relief to the families of poorly paid sailors.

Read the rest here.

Intro to Material Culture

I am doing a directed reading this semester with one of my students who wants to pursue graduate work in early American material culture.  Here is our booklist:

Deetz, In Small Things Forgotten
Smart and Carson, American Material Culture
St. George, Material Life in America
Bushman, Refinement of America
Ulrich, Age of Homespun
Jaffee, A Nation of Goods
Montgomery, Textiles in America
McDannel, Material Christianity
Carson, Of Consuming Interests

I would love to hear what people who know far more about early American material culture studies think about this booklist.