Tuesday, November 30, 2010


Friday, November 5, 2010

A New Nation of Goods

Please join us at the McNeil Center for Early American Studies on Tuesday, December 7, for a celebration of the publication of David Jaffee’s wonderful new book, A New Nation of Goods: The Material Culture of Early America, published this fall as part of the Early American Studies Series. David Jaffee teaches at the Bard Graduate Center: Decorative Arts, Design History, Material Culture, where he is also Head of New Media Research.

A New Nation of Goods grounds its broad narrative of cultural change in case studies of artisans, consumers, and specific artifacts. Each chapter opens with an "object lesson" and weaves an object-based analysis together with the richness of individual lives. The path that such craftspeople and consumers took was not inevitable; on the contrary, as historian David Jaffee vividly demonstrates, it was strewn with alternative outcomes, such as decentralized production with specialized makers. The richly illustrated book offers a collective biography of the post-Revolutionary generation, gathering together the case studies of producers and consumers who embraced these changes, those who opposed them, or, most significantly, those who fashioned the myriad small changes that coalesced into a new Victorian cultural order that none of them had envisioned or entirely appreciated.

We will convene at the MCEAS in the Stephanie Grauman Wolf Room at 5:00 for an informal presentation and discussion with Dr. Jaffee, followed by a reception and book-signing. Copies of the book will be available for purchase at the event. Please RSVP to this message (or call 215-898-9251) by Friday, December 3.

McNeil Center for Early American Studies
University of Pennsylvania
3355 Woodland Walk (34th and Sansom Streets)
Philadelphia, PA 19104-4531

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Assignment 7 (30 points): Final Paper, due December 15

Your final assignment requires that you reflect on the broad sweep of our course experience. In a 3,750 to 5,000-word formal paper, you must revisit the process of writing your initial 50-word object caption and demonstrate how a fuller engagement with the object does/does not expand our ability to understand its history. More specifically, you must:

• Assess your initial 50-word First Person Museum caption and the process of writing it. As an object history, is it effective? Why, why not?

• Based on our readings and class discussions, propose a methodology for expanding your preliminary object study into a broader investigation that is unbridled by the challenges of exhibit development.

• Implement your proposed methodology by writing a second history of your object. This new history must reflect considerable use of primary and secondary sources and should constitute the bulk of this paper.

• Explain how your second history differs from your first. Word count aside, in what ways does the second history represent a different kind of intellectual product than the first? What are its strengths? What are its weaknesses?

• Finally, having written and reflected on your second object history, indicate how—if at all—you would revise your first object history. Include a revised 50-word history if applicable.

Recognizing that access to your First Person Museum object may be limited (if possible at all) you may choose to substitute a similar object as the focus of your second object history. In all cases, physically interacting with your object is a prerequisite for this assignment—you must be able to interact with the object.

Otherwise, this paper must also:

• Be double spaced;
• Be typed in 11-12 point font;
• Have 1-inch margins;
• Include page numbers;
• Include a title page or heading with your name, date, paper title, and course number;
• Include proper citations (Chicago style preferred) and a bibliography or works cited page;
• Be thoroughly proofread, edited, and must adhere to proper grammatical conventions;
• Be handed to me—I will not except email attachments.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Material Culture Symposium for Emerging Scholars

Title: 9th Annual Material Culture Symposium for Emerging Scholars
Location: Delaware
Date: 2010-11-24
Description: Objects in Revolt Winterthur Museum & Country Estate
Saturday, April 16, 2011 The Center for Material Culture
Studies at the University of Delaware invites submissions for
papers to be given at the Ninth Annual Material Culture
Symposium for Emerging Scholars. Focus: Objects order the
social body an ...
Contact: emerging.scholars@gmail.com
URL: www.udel.edu/materialculture/ess_call.html
Announcement ID: 179642

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Revised Syllabus

I've posted a revised syllabus under "course information." Please refer to it for the rest of the semester.

Assignment 5: Object Captions

Assignment 5 will unfold in two stages:

1. Object Captions

Write 3 to 5 50-word object captions and post them to your blog. Each caption should be titled “About ___”, so that the second word refers to the theme that you’ve chosen to focus on. So, in the case of Carla’s wedding ring, it could be "About wedding rings" or “About marriage" or "About divorce" or whatever aspect of the object’s history that you consider significant. Your name will appear at the end of the text, so please indicate in your post how you prefer to be identified.

Along with your captions, please email to me (do not post) a summary of the rationale underlying your various captions. Limit your summary to 5 pages or less.

These materials must be posted/submitted by no later than 5:00 PM on October 11.

2. Caption Critique

Before coming to class on October 13, review ALL of the captions posted by your peers and select one per object that you believe to be most effective and/or suitable for the First Person Museum. During the first half of class, we will work collectively toward compiling a list of captions that, during the second half of class, we will present to our project partners. Please come prepared to discuss the relative merits of each caption so that we can move efficiently and judiciously toward a consensus.

This assignment is worth 20 points. You will be evaluated on the quality of your proposed captions and the substance of your contribution to our vetting process.

Revised Exhibit Goals

Goals for the exhibit, listed in order of priority:
1) Visitors will recognize that they endow objects with value.
2) Visitors will understand that the person and his/her story is the focus.
3) Visitors will be able to articulate an emotional response to the stories in the exhibit.
4) Visitors will understand that the meaning of an object is influenced by time, place and experience.
5) Visitors will think about their own stuff differently.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Objects of Our afection

For those of you who don't have a Wednesday night class, check this out on Nov. 3.

GENEALOGY EVENT / After their mother’s death, Lisa Tracy and her sister faced several households’ worth of furniture and memorabilia and decided to track down the history behind each object. The search for family stories led Tracy all the way from her New Jersey home to the Philippines, as well as to the archives at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. Tracy will talk about her journey and read excerpts of her newly released memoir, Objects of Our Affection: Uncovering My Family’s Past, One Chair, Pistol, and Pickle Fork at a Time. Followed by a book signing. FREE for members, $15 for nonmembers. Cost includes a one-day admission to HSP's research library.
Register here

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Object of My Affection

Check out this fun piece by our own John Petit. John's film was part of a First Person Arts project titled "Object of My Affection" and it randomly partnered filmmakers with people and their objects. The goal was to create 5 minute documentaries about them within 5 days of meeting. John teamed up with a photographer whose important object was his hard drives of digital photos.

Wolfsonian Fellowship

The Wolfsonian–Florida International University is a museum and research center that promotes the examination of modern visual and material culture. The Wolfsonian’s fellowship program is intended to support research on the museum’s collection, generally for periods of three to four weeks. The program is open to holders of master’s or doctoral degrees, Ph.D. candidates, and others who have a significant record of professional achievement in relevant fields.

The focus of the Wolfsonian collection is on North American and European decorative arts, propaganda, architecture, and industrial and graphic design from the period 1885–1945. The United States, Great Britain, Germany, Italy, and the Netherlands are the countries most extensively represented. There are also smaller but significant collections of materials from a number of other countries, including Austria, Czechoslovakia, France, Japan, the former Soviet Union, and Hungary. The collection includes works on paper (including posters, prints, and design drawings), furniture, paintings, sculpture, glass, textiles, ceramics, lighting and other appliances, and many other kinds of objects. The Wolfsonian’s library has approximately 50,000 rare books, periodicals, and ephemeral items.

Applicants are encouraged to discuss their project with the museum staff prior to submission to ensure the relevance of their proposals to The Wolfsonian’s collection. For more information about The Wolfsonian and its collection, visit the website at http://www.wolfsonian.fiu.edu, call 305-535-2686, or email to research@thewolf.fiu.edu. Applications for the 2011–12 academic year must be postmarked by December 31, 2010.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

HTML issues

If you are cutting and pasting from MS Word and having trouble posting to your blog, just change the font to Arial. Blogger recognizes much fewer fonts than Word, and does not recognize Times New Roman or Calibri.

When is a Brick More than a Brick?


Monday, September 20, 2010

Dreaming of Dixie

Dr. Karen Cox @ CHAT (Gladfelter 10th Floor), 3:30, to discuss Dreaming of Dixie: How the South Was Created in American Popular Culture (UNC Press, 2011)

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

DYI Exhibit Design

Those of you who are looking ahead to assignment 4 might be interested in this post from Nina Simon's Museum 2.0 blog.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Material Culture at Ground Zero

Over the weekend, National Public Radio's The Picture Show blog featured a photo essay by photographer and National Geographic contributor Ira Block. The essay showcased found objects from Ground Zero: "a necklace, a note, a shoe: personal items that belonged to those who perished." The objects will be part of an exhibit at the National September 11 Memorial & Museum.

The brief interview with Block included on the website suggests that he, a trained archeologist, struggled to extract himself from the powerful emotional stories surrounding each of the objects he photographed. Given our discussion in the last class about the difference between story and history, I was struck by Block's comments.

As for the National September 11 Memorial & Museum: according to the museum website, the exhibit will be composed of photos and text, mementos (objects), and oral remembrances -- all contributed by individuals -- as a means by which "to learn about the men, women, and children who died" on 9/11. Here's a brief description

. . . interactive tables will allow visitors to discover additional information about each person, including additional photographs, remembrances by family and friends, artifacts, and the location of individual names on the Memorial plaza. Rotating selections of personal artifacts will also be featured. An adjoining chamber will present profiles of individual victims in a dignified sequence through photographs, biographical information, and audio recordings.

Sounds like the exhibit will be somewhat similar (at least in form) to the First Person Museum.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Capitalzing on Object Stories

For an interesting meditation on the value and uses of object stories, check out Rob Walker's "The Back Story" in the New York Times Magazine. Good point from which to consider the difference between object stories and object histories.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Assignment 1

Thanks for your patience as we sort out where everyone's object is. I recognize that Assignment 1 will be challenging for those of you who have not had an opportunity to meet your object or, in some cases, may be unsure of what your object looks like or what it is precisely. In all cases, please make your best effort, even if circumstances force you to veer from the assignment prompts. You might, for instance, describe a similar object or perhaps an entire category of objects. Perhaps one of Prown's categories of analysis can help you get started. Or maybe consider how your object reflects Csikszentmihalyi's observations.

No matter how much or little you know about your object, at least introduce what you know of it to your audience and be forthright about your method (e.g. "I haven't seen my object yet, so this is all a guess..."). Posting a picture of your object would also be a good way to introduce it, although the images I've provided are owned by First Person Arts and should not be posted without permission. Please be sure, as the prompt indicates, to describe your object "in the most precise language possible." Because we are speaking with and about objects, we must become comfortable with their language. Manufacturer's websites, user manuals, patent descriptions (http://www.google.com/patents), chat group logs, and even eBay can provide invaluable insights into the particularities of our material world. Be creative in how you identify and use sources.

And, of course, be mindful of your audience(s) at all times and write carefully (blogs require just as much proofreading as formal writing).

Please send me a link to your blog as soon as you have created it. I'll build a list on our course blog so that you can review your colleagues' work. I'd encourage you also to become a fan of our page and/or subscribe to its feed so that you'll be aware of announcements.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Life Of The Object: An Experimental Workshop

The Mid-America American Studies Association (MAASA) Conference at The University of Wisconsin-Madison April 7-11, 2011

Historians and cultural critics who study objects have long focused on the relationships between production and consumption, but these dynamics deserve reexamination in today's obj ...


Sunday, June 13, 2010


Welcome to Studies in American Material Culture. We'll use this space throughout the semester to share ideas with one another and to keep track of our many projects.

This course introduces students to the major themes, issues, and methods relevant to the study of material culture. We will consider the variety of ways in which scholars from diverse fields have sought to infer meaning from things and then seek specifically to understand how historians have applied those ideas to their own work.

We will also be engaged in an exciting semester-long cooperative museum project (see "Partnership" in the right-hand column). Consequently, this version of Studies in American Material Culture will be particularly concerned with issues bearing on the practice of public history, specifically within museums and other exhibitionary contexts.

Visit this page often and feel free to post whatever and whenever you see fit. Looking forward to a great semester!