Architecture and the senses

Interesting discussion of design decisions intended to help a new Gallaudet dorm meet the needs of deaf residents. I’d like to see student responses, too. But the continuing references to visibility were illuminating. Sightlines are obviously a priority if you’re using ASL, but I am also used to thinking of a general cultural emphasis on vision, with it trumping (though not excluding) the importance of other senses in many scenarios. The ways in which common design decisions interrupt vision speaks not only to ableism but a less absolute hierarchy of sensual interaction with the environment.

(Via @JMarkOckerbloom)

Stuff in Boston

There’s a post up at History@Work about the Boston Marathon bombing memorial. It’s written by Matthew Barlow, who’s very interested in space, which IMHO is a good perspective from which to approach such a subject. Memorial Mania came to mind, not simply because this memorial is exactly the sort of thing Doss would’ve included, but because observations about the intensely digital and personalized mediation of events arise in the case of this memorial.* The impact of, say, TV broadcasts has been hashed over for a few decades now; everybody recording, texting, and tweeting is a comparatively fresh phenomenon, and there is a real difference (albeit not a sea change) between 2010 and 2013.

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State of the me

Just wanted to fill in the gaps in a semester-long silence, mainly to be anal.

Last fall, I found out I was pregnant, which came as something of a surprise. The Son was born about a month early, has been happy and healthy (barring some things that require follow up but not panic) and loved. He’s sort of eaten my life (much as his older sister did, and continues to do). While I’ve thought about writing about kids in relation to academic stuff (e.g. reading Blue Jeans while contemplating maternity clothes or an article on the prosthetic qualities of genes while contemplating a fetus’s chromosomes), I mostly haven’t because of the life eating aspects.

I took my thesis colloquium last semester, and though it became clear early on that a May graduation was going to be overly aggressive, I did find it useful and do want to talk about it at some point. Similarly, I do want to talk about my topic (an unholy union of archives, public history, and 3D printing), but some of that may happen via Making History. (I’ve been meaning to play around with Drupal for a while, and this seemed like a good excuse.)

I’ve also checked out some fun digital humanities stuff (some of which I’ve mentioned, more of which I hope to mention) and will be doing a bit of digitization work in the near future. And writing the thesis.

MySpace and urban renewal

Apparently MySpace deleted everything and hopes to rise from the ashes, newly branded and relevent.* This of course horrifies me, from the perspective of an archivist, historian, and user of cloud services. But, when juxtaposed with the web as architecture metaphor and digital self-segregation it feels like a social justice issue. Did a minority neighborhood just get bulldozed?

* I haven’t looked into it too deeply yet, so my initial reaction may be off base. I suppose I technically still have a MySpace account, but I only used it to display a feed from a site that’s been down for years; not exactly deep or current familiarity with MySpace from a user’s perspective. So while I have a philosophical dog in the fight, it’s not personal.

Exhibit Plan and Rationale 2.0: unconstrained and impractical

This exhibit plan is a thought exercise, in which the constraints of physical space, budget, and responsible stewardship are ignored. Unsurprisingly, it is also rather more vague (and not simply as a result of time and the nature of the assignment). Solving specific problems has a way of sharpening ideas.

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Exhibit Plan and Rationale: Exhibit 2


The women’s items (trousseau dress, card case, day dress, dolman, and assembly gown) will be placed in the vitrine, with the quilt hanging in a protective case outside of the vitrine but still visually aligned with it.* The men’s items (18th and 19th century waistcoat and shoes) will be placed in freestanding cases facing the vitrine. The encased feminine objects will thus be subjected to the virtual gaze of the masculine objects, evoking women’s social roles as decorations for men and objects to be assessed. Exhibit visitors, capable of moving around the masculine objects and thus enjoying a more interactive relationship with them—while at the same time forced to look upon the feminine objects from a pre-determined perspective—will be implicated in this gaze.

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Exhibit Plan and Rationale: Exhibit 1


The wedding dresses will be placed on models in the vitrine, arrayed left to right chronologically: 1837, 1845, and 1850s. The back of the 1845 dress will be presented to the audience, showing the number of buttons. The 1837 dress should be positioned to draw attention to the sleeves. Modest spotlighting may also be used to emphasize these design elements. Positioning for the 1850s dress can be purely aesthetic, as the caption calls more attention to the color than any other design element.

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Exhibit Plan and Rationale

In designing a plausible exhibit for the objects selected from the Drexel Historic Costume Collection, our class was confronted with a series of real-world constraints. Good stewardship of the objects restricts their placement in environmentally-controlled cases inaccessible to the public and construction schedules have pushed back the target exhibit date. Most significantly, the dimensions of the vitrine, combined with the footprint of the gowns, preclude a single exhibit. Instead, the challenge is to create two separate exhibits which are curatorially feasible, marketable to a general audience, and thematically rich.

The division of objects is driven primarily by the gowns, with each exhibit to be limited to three. As there are three wedding gowns, a wedding-themed exhibit is a straightforward (if not especially innovative) way to split the objects. A wedding theme has the advantage of being an easy hook for public interest. By timing the exhibit to coincide with other local events—the 2014 Bridal Expo, for example—there may be the opportunity to generate publicity and attract an audience interested in the general subject, who might not otherwise have any particular interest in nineteenth century costumes.

The tightly targeted theme of the first exhibit risks standing in stark contrast to the second exhibit, which cannot simply be presented as the “everything else” exhibit. Themes of social status and performance can be carried over from the wedding exhibit, knitting the two exhibits together. The impact of the Centennial ties into the performance aspect, and as all the Centennial-related objects are part of the second exhibit, this is where we evoke that particular moment of Philadelphia history. The wedding split also has the advantage of segregating two objects whose connection to locations outside of Philadelphia is of primary importance: the corset (Reading, PA) and the 1850s wedding gown (Salunga, PA). The second exhibit affords the freedom to play up the Philadelphia connection, compensating for the lack of a strong wedding theme and removing the necessity of using an asterisk any time we refer to the city. (Even the quilt, which I suspect was made in Clearfield County in central Pennsylvania, has a sufficiently strong connection to the Centennial that I feel comfortable framing it as a Philadelphia object.)* The necessity of splitting the exhibit can thus be seen as a feature rather than a bug: it allows for the highlighting of themes which are strongly demonstrated by a subset of objects, hopefully resulting in two distinct (though not unconnected) exhibits in which object interpretations reinforce one another.

Exhibit 1
Exhibit 2

* Samuel Clark Patchin (father of Margaret Heims and maternal grandfather of Louise Beck) relocated to Clearfield in the mid-nineteenth century, and Louise Beck was born in that county in 1889. It seems reasonable to suppose that Margaret Heims (my proposed quilt creator) resided in the area during the intervening years. See Grace Patchen Leggett, The History and Genealogy of the Patchin-Patchen Family (Waterbury, Conn.: The Patchin-en Family Association, 1952), 342-344; National Archives and Records Administration (NARA); Washington D.C.; Passport Applications, January 2, 1906 – March 31, 1925; Collection Number: ARC Identifier 583830 / MLR Number A1 534; NARA Series: M1490; Roll #: 1333,, accessed 30 September 2012.