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Participants in the four-week institute will be engaged in a program of seminars, group discussions, trips to local and regional collections, presentations by participants, and individual consultations with the faculty. A guest faculty member will serve as co-leader each week, joining other guest faculty who will offer particular workshops, walking tours, and presentations. Monday and Wednesday mornings will generally be devoted to seminar discussions on readings and object analysis led by the director and guest faculty leader for that week. Other afternoons or entire day field trips (Hudson River collections, Yale University Art Gallery) will allow participants to pursue hands-on work guided by our guest faculty; we will also have two afternoons a week that will be open for individual meetings by participants with the director and the guest faculty as well as the opportunity to pursue research in New York collections. Each Friday will also feature a digital workshop during which we will introduce participants to new methods of collecting information about artifacts, as well as methods of presentation such as digital exhibitions for scholarly use, video essays, Prezi presentation software, and collaborative wikis for scholarly use and student projects.
We will follow a thematic scheme with such weekly topics as Craft to Industry or High/Low in Material Culture to focus our visits to various collections of 19th century New York City material culture; this approach to contextualizing our study will model for the participants how our particular practice for studying material culture might transfer to their own teaching or research. We will also investigate some genres and forms over a longer period of time to allow participants to see changes in technology or modes of consumption; one example will be our study of prints and illustrated periodicals in week four.
Our first week (July 1-5) will be devoted to an Introduction to American Material Culture Studies. Catherine Whalen (Bard Graduate Center), an expert in the culture of collecting and the methods and theories of American material culture, will be the co-leader this week. We explore the historiography of American material culture studies, along with the approaches of art history and the decorative arts. The afternoon discussion will move to the week’s theme of Craft to Industry, considering how new modes of manufacture changed the structure of various industries along with concurrent changes in product design and consumer tastes over the nineteenth century. A library session will introduce participants to the BGC collections, survey other local library collections, and discuss their relative strengths based upon the participants’ interests. On Tuesday our guest faculty Ken Ames (Professor, BGC), author of several significant material culture studies including Death in the Dining Room, and Debra Schmidt-Bach (N-YHS), assistant curator of decorative arts and a specialist in silver production in New York, begin our hands-on work with objects by conducting a workshop on silver artifacts at the New-York Historical Society (N-YHS). Ivan Gaskell (BGC) will join us for close looking in the galleries. On Wednesday we will take a full day trip to New Haven, led by guest lecturer Edward S. Cooke Jr., to visit the Yale University Art Gallery (YUAG). He will lead two hands-on workshops on the changing modes of production in ceramics and furniture in the first half of the nineteenth century as participants work with the collections in the Art Gallery’s Object Study Classroom and its Furniture Study where over 1,000 objects can be examined. Our first digital workshop on Friday, led by the BGC Assistant Director for the Digital Media Lab, Kimon Keramidas, will survey digital tools and online resources available for material culture scholarship and teaching.
Our focus in week two (July 8-12) will be on Space and Place. For this week, we will focus on how the early nineteenth-century port city of New York experienced a striking social and spatial differentiation among its inhabitants over the century, as well as how the participants can use historic houses and walking tours in their teaching and research. Our guest instructor, Bernard Herman (George B. Tindall Professor of American Studies, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill) will lead our Monday seminar in readings in landscape studies and vernacular architecture that will guide our investigation of the grid pattern of 1811 and the growth of middle class row houses and artisans’ dwellings. On Tuesday, Jack Tchen (History and Asian/Pacific/American Studies, New York University), author of New York Before Chinatown: Orientalism and the Shaping of American Culture, 1776-1882, will conduct a walking tour of Chinatown’s Chatham Square and talk about his recent research on recovering the history of the Asian-American community of nineteenth-century New York and its cultural traditions of intermingling and improvisation; we will visit the Museum of the Chinese in America with Tchen. Herman will lead a visit on Wednesday morning to the Storage Facility of the American Folk Art Museum to guide participants in thinking about the complex issues around the concept of folk art and looking at quilts as a way of understanding social relationships and civic relations. On Thursday, the second seminar will be lead by the historical archaeologist Diana Wall, who will discuss her research on the African Burial Ground. We will also visit the nearby site of Seneca Village with historian Cynthia Copeland to talk about how archaeological and historical archival research allow for the reconstruction of the African-American and Irish immigrant community in the Central Park area that was displaced by the park’s construction. Our digital workshop will consider the use of Prezi and wikis as tools for teaching, project development, workflow, and presentations.
In week three (July 15-19) we will shift attention to High/Low in Material Culture and the study of the domestic interior from the perspective of different classes. Katherine Grier (History, Museum Studies, University of Delaware), will be our co-leader. Her book Culture and Comfort is a foundational text for understanding how the parlor became the site for middle class identity; her interests lie in the history of everyday life in America, especially household routines, domestic interiors, and foodways. Grier will be joined by Amelia Peck (Marica F. Vilcek Curator, American Decorative Arts, Metropolitan Museum of Art) for our full-day visit to two Hudson River estates: Lyndhurst, the Gothic Revival mansion designed in 1838 by A. J. Davis as a country villa and then redesigned in 1864-65, and Glenview, to see the later arrival of American Arts and Crafts style. Our visit will explore the changing relationship of city and hinterlands, along with the idealization of nature and the rise of rural residences, and allow participants to better understand the goals of nineteenth-century landscape design. Thursday morning will feature a visit to the Lower East Side Museum with a behind-the-scenes tour of the collections and a discussion of how the LES Museum tells the story of the immigrant working class residents of 97 Orchard Street amidst the neighborhood of the Lower East Side. Our weekly digital workshop will delve into how Omeka and other digital tools can facilitate the creation and use of online exhibitions in teaching and research.
Our focus in the fourth week (July 22-26) will be on Visual Culture. Our guest instructor Joshua Brown (History, American Social History Project, Graduate Center, CUNY), author of prize-winning studies of the pictorial press of the Gilded Age, will conduct a seminar on the burgeoning literature of visual culture studies and its relation to material culture. He will begin the participants’ study of the various genres of prints (woodcut, lithograph photograph, half tone, cartoons, illustrated newspapers) in their technical aspects as well as their plural cultural meaning. On Tuesday we will broaden our hands-on work with Ivan Gaskell, who will conduct a workshop in the nineteenth-century collections of Native American material culture at the American Museum of Natural History in New York that constituted some of the foundations for American anthropology; Gaskell’s workshop will serve also to highlight issues surrounding the exciting culture of collecting. On Wednesday, Brown will lead a hands-on session at the New-York Historical Society’s Print Room; our investigation of the new immigrant communities will emphasize the way that these groups become visible in such material cultural forms as prints and illustrated periodicals and newspapers. Brown will also conduct a workshop on the use of new media to teach and research American material and visual culture based upon the ASHP’s ample experience. Thursday and Friday will conclude with the participants’ project presentations and plans for follow-up work.
Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this program do not necessarily reflect those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.
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