“A curious font of porphyry”

Screen Shot 2018-07-12 at 3.29.59 AMWorking on material culture, my research has taken me to some interesting, if unexpected places. Last summer, it involved waiting outside Saint John’s Church in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, founded in 1732 as the Anglican Queen’s Chapel. I quickly ran inside to snap some pictures of a baptismal font between back-to-back Sunday services. The Saint John’s font is an impressive fixture, carved from marble in a Continental European baroque style. As a ritual object used in the sacrament of baptism, the font is hardly unusual, but its story is. Continue reading

Interpreting US History in the UK: The American Museum in Britain

As an American studying American history in the UK, my response to the question of “What are you studying?” often inspires wry smiles, wrinkled brows, and variations of “Why here?” Although I am now fairly adept at justifying my decision, I remain fascinated by the concept of studying a nation’s history beyond its geographic boundaries. With my time in Britain near its end, I traveled to Bath to visit  The American Museum in Britain, a place all too familiar with this topic. The Museum is located in Claverton Manor, a nineteenth-century English country manor on 125 acres of land, and also features a Folk-Art Gallery, an exhibit hall, and gardens.[1] Continue reading

Do Objects Lie? A New Video for Teaching About Material Evidence

Is material culture as inherently untrustworthy? I was once at a conference roundtable where one attendee claimed that “Material culture is so elitist, just rich people’s stuff in museums.” Fortunately, a historical archaeologist in the room begged to differ, arguing that archaeology offered a rich record of people who did not necessarily leave written sources behind. When I recently required my students to analyze both a material and a textual source, they concluded that material sources were inherently more difficult to work with than their written counterparts. “Once I describe the object, there’s nothing left to say about it,” one student complained.

I’ve been hearing variations of this argument my entire academic life. As a scholar who both studies and teaches with material culture, I find this reasoning both fascinating and frustrating. Why do so many people, from scholars to students, consider material culture somehow a lesser form of evidence than the written word? Continue reading

Q&A: Erin M. Greenwald, author of New Orleans, the Founding Era

Greenwald_2017Today at The Junto, Philippe Halbert interviews Erin M. Greenwald about her exhibition, New Orleans, the Founding Era, on view at The Historic New Orleans Collection through the 27 of May. Edited by Greenwald, the accompanying English-French publication features interdisciplinary essays by eight leading scholars and an illustrated catalogue. Before beginning as Curator of Programs at the New Orleans Museum of Art in 2017, Greenwald was senior curator and historian at The Historic New Orleans Collection, where she curated exhibitions including Purchased Lives: The American Slave Trade from 1808 to 1865, a traveling exhibition funded by the NEH and awarded the AASLH Leadership in History Award of Merit. Her first monograph, Marc-Antoine Caillot and the Company of the Indies in Louisiana: Trade in the French Atlantic World, was published by LSU Press in 2016. Greenwald also chairs the New Orleans Slave Trade Marker and App Project, an initiative of the 2018 Tricentennial Commission, which anticipates placing six interpretive markers designating sites in New Orleans with direct links to the slave trade this summer.

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Guest Post: Review of the National Museum of African-American History and Culture

Guest poster Evelyne Martial is a retired attorney. She received her JD from the Cincinnati College of Law. She is currently enrolled in the Gender and Cultural Studies Program at Simmons College.

EHIGH7751_418744arly on a cold, frigid morning in Washington, D.C., my husband and I stood at the tail end of a long, winding line to get into the Museum of African American History and Culture. It was too cold to walk around to view the architecture so we hustled over to the entry line as soon as we exited the cab. As we waited, clutching our prized full-page sized passes, we watched a line of yellow school buses deposit kids from elementary, middle, and high schools into the bright frigid air. Their peals of laughter and rambunctious playfulness resisted the cold air. Their faces, hues of browns and tans bundled in colorful puff jackets, were filled with excitement.  In line, a group of about six or seven women of African descent stood behind us. This group was from Los Angeles, California and had centered their annual get together around the visit to the Museum. They also were uncomfortably cold yet visibly excited about being here, particularly at this moment of our political lives. I wanted to find out more about them, but because it was so cold or the line was already so long at 10:00 a.m., the Museum staff diverted half of our line to another entryway. We lost contact with them and the children as we sped down the plaza to a much shorter line and before we knew it we were inside the Museum. Continue reading

Roundtable: Crafting Protest, Fashioning Politics: DIY Lessons from the American Revolution

Roundtable: Crafting Protest, Fashioning Politics: DIY Lessons from the American Revolution

This Colonial Couture post is by Zara Anishanslin, assistant professor of history and art history at the University of Delaware. Her latest book is Portrait of a Woman in Silk: Hidden Histories of the British Atlantic World (Yale University Press, 2016). Follow her @ZaraAnishanslin.

Homespun, Thomas Eakins, 1881, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Homespun, Thomas Eakins, 1881, Metropolitan Museum of Art

“Please, sisters, back away from the pink.”

So women planning to attend the January 2017 Women’s Marches were urged by the writer of an opinion piece in The Washington Post. “Sorry knitters,” she continued, but making and wearing things like pink pussycat hats “undercuts the message that the march is trying to send….We need to be remembered for our passion and purpose, not our pink pussycat hats.”  To back up her point, the author opined that “bra burning” dominated—and thus damaged—popular (mis)conceptions of women’s rights protests in the 1960s. Please, ladies, she exhorted, don’t repeat the mistakes we made in the ‘60s by bringing fashion into politics. Continue reading

Roundtable: Of Records and Rituals: Native Americans and the Textile Trade

Roundtable: Of Records and Rituals: Native Americans and the Textile Trade

This Colonial Couture post is by Laura E. Johnson, associate curator at Historic New England. The exhibition Mementos: Jewelry of Life and Love from Historic New England, which she curated, will open at the Eustis Estate Museum in Milton, Massachusetts, in May 2017.

“Echatillons Etouffes d’angleterre a l’usage des Espagnolesen Europe y en Amerique,” (Samples of English stuffs in use by the Spanish in Europe and America), Joseph Downs Collection, Winterthur Museum and Library

I’d like to build on Kimberly Alexander’s question from last week, “How can we write history when we do not have the original object?” There are many ways to examine a textile and its context without the physical object, as she demonstrated so ably. Much of my research on Native peoples, identity construction, and the Atlantic textile trade is based by necessity on a combination of archival resources, rare portraits, and archaeological evidence. Trade records, price lists, descriptions of treaty meetings, and other archival sources offer a wide range of evidence about textiles and how Natives consumed them, even in the absence of the pieces themselves.

Textiles were among the most lucrative and desirable of imported objects in the early Atlantic economy.[1] The French, Dutch, and British all relied heavily on textile production for a substantial portion of their national revenue. Woolens and linens raised, spun, woven and finished in these areas drove international commerce from the 13th century.[2] Native Americans presented an enormous potential market for their products as the domestic market became increasingly saturated. As one scholar has stated, it could have been termed the “cloth trade as easily as the deerskin trade.”[3] Continue reading