Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Rain, rain, go away!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Do you know that walking two miles in the rain is MISERABLE?!? That is exactly what I was fortunate to do this morning. Vickie, Kate, Jenna (my house-mates), and I all walked almost the entire way up “The Street” in the pouring rain, forgetting the fact that Jenna has a car here. Needless to say, we were soaked, cold, and not very happy when we arrived at the classroom. It was also picture day – we had our photos taken for our museum ids. I am officially a Summer Fellow of Historic Deerfield. Wearing these ids will enable us to get into most museums for free, since it is common practice for museums to not charge other museum professionals admission. I really want to try it Illinois after this summer. Apparently other fellows from the past still use their badges to reap such benefits.

The classroom is located in probably one of the newest (if not the newest) building in Historic Deerfield. The community raised money for it throughout the early 1990s, and it was finally constructed in 1997. It opened to the public in 1998. This building – called the Flynt Center – serves as visible storage of the much of the collection, has two galleries, a seminar room, classroom, and staff offices. Historic Deerfield has 20,000 objects in its collection! It is really neat to see the collection is storage; it’s like an exhibition except there are very few labels. We got an official tour of the building from the collections manager. Oh my gosh, part of me really wants his job, but there is SO MUCH you have to know about the museum’s collection to do that.

We also discussed the two articles we read about material culture methodology. Both authors had different approaches to extracting information from the object, and “reading the object as text.” The skills we read about and practiced will be how we complete our object paper due at the end of June. Each one of us gets to choose on object in the collection, gather information, research the cultural implications about it, etc, and write 8-10 pages about it. Tomorrow should be when we pick our objects. I think the museum will have us look at new acquisitions so that they will be able to use our research. In class, we practiced these skills with a late-18th century pewter teapot. We looked at the material, construction, dimensions, shape, form, etc., speculated what this would have been used for, what cultural significance it would have had, and established a personal relationship with the object to evaluate the emotional response it provoked. This also helps us examine our own cultural expectations, not just the culture in which the object was created. Later this afternoon we did the same thing with a piece of furniture in one of the houses. It was really hard, but at least there are six pairs of eyes examining the object. It is going to be really interesting to try and do this by myself for one object.

Our lunch today was a meet and greet with the entire museum staff. Hooray for potlucks! The food was delicious, but there were so many people. Granted, I did better socializing here than I did with the Newberry staff and fellows, but it was still difficult to keep everyone straight. After a few weeks with more one-on-one interactions, I should learn the names and titles.

This afternoon, we went to the furniture exhibit “Into the Woods,” which was designed by our tutor, Josh. He is also the curator of furniture, so he gave us a lesson on wood types, the construction patterns of different furniture types, etc. It was really interesting, though also overwhelming. By the end of the two and half hours, I really wanted to sit down, but instead had to walk to one of the houses (on the opposite end of “The Street”) and examine that furniture piece I mentioned above. The piece was a setter, often used at sitting space near fireplaces. This particular piece apparently belonged to and was built by a religious man who helped found Ashfield, MA, because he didn’t believe in organized religion. He wanted a pure religion in which the spiritual leaders would volunteer their time for their faith and not try to earn a wage through preaching. It was really one of the earliest examples of the separation of church and state. I mean, we are talking about the late 18th century New England. He was arrested for some bogus charges because he made a lot of enemies due to his ideas, but he ended up petitioning the King of England, and was eventually exempt from paying taxes after that. His name escapes me at the moment…It is really interesting though.

This evening, we had supper at a Mexican restaurant in Greenfield, which is only a few miles up the road. It was very good. I actually tried the quesadilla AND the salsa. I didn’t end up eating much of the salsa, but at least I tried it. Tonight was free! No homework! All of us took the opportunity to just chill in the Wright House (my house). We intended to watch a movie, but interesting conversations occurred instead. It was really nice. I can’t believe how busy we have been in three days, and how exhausted we all are. This summer is going to fly by, but it will be very productive and educational.

FYI: Since the internet is weird (as I have mentioned), I’m going to try and type everything out on Word and upload the entries when I get the chance. So don’t be surprised if I post two entries in one day…


  1. Oh, Margaret! You have no idea how much GLEE I have over everything you're learning. Wood types! Reading objects! And it's only day three!

    I would do a jig, but that would mean getting up off my couch. It's implied ;)

  2. Somehow I missed this entry, and did not read it until after I had read the one following it. Now, that I've read this one, a lot of the questions I asked regarding the following entry have been answered.
    “Reading the object as text,” sounds quite interesting to me. A remaining question I have is what happens when - as in your case - the object you're examining IS text?
    Glad to hear you're having a good time!
    - Erin

  3. I am so with you about the rain. Living in Tokyo has meant a lot of walking around in the rain in the past nine months. And guess what my last month here is? The official rainy season.

    And that religious man sounds like my kind of guy. His position on organized religion seems to be very similar to mine.