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Things in Common: Fostering Material Culture Pedagogies

2009-2011 (CMCS, ART, ENGL, HIST)

Pictured are, from left, La Tanya Autry, Amanda Norbutus, Andy Bozanic, Josh Calhoun and Amber Kerr-Allison

This two-year grant aimed to exploit the University's rich resources in material culture studies with a particular focus on teaching and learning with objects. During the first year of the grant (2009-2010), we hosted the national meeting of the Consortium for American Material Culture (CAMC) on the theme of pedagogy. The consortium includes leading scholars from both universities and museums; some 40 participants prepared position statements about their strategies for interpreting a particular object in a particular setting (classroom, museum, historical society) and engaged in wide-ranging discussions. The statements and discussion notes are available on the CAMC wiki. A special event during the meeting, "The Public Lives of Things," featured graduate students supported by the NEH Challenge Grant in public engagement in the humanities and attracted a wide audience. Follow-up meetings on campus and a panel at the national American Studies Association meeting in November 2010 helped us move toward the major goal of the second year of the grant: a proposal to the NEH for a summer institute in 2012 for 25 secondary teachers. That proposal, titled, "The Stories of Stuff: American Consumerism and Material Culture," was submitted to the NEH on 28 February 2011. Participants in the proposed institute will examine the influence of material goods on American daily life historically and today through discussions and workshops with leading scholars and visits to major collections, archives, recycling centers, commercial streets, and shopping malls. They will conduct object-based research to develop a curriculum unit incorporating object lessons.

Deborah C. Andrews, Professor of English, directs the Center for Material Culture Studies, which administers an undergraduate minor and facilitates cooperation among several university programs in the field. She teaches courses in technical editing, in researching and interpreting objects and sites for public understanding, and on American literature from 1865 to 1945, especially as it reflects and contributes to the cultural and material world in America at that time. The author of articles about domestic science in 19th century America, whaling, and Philadelphia banking architecture, she has published several texts on professional communication, including Technical Communication in the Global Community (2nd ed., Prentice Hall, 2001) and, most recently, Management Communication: A Guide (with W. D. Andrews: Houghton Mifflin, 2004).

Arwen Mohun, Associate Professor of History, teaches a variety of graduate and undergraduate courses on topics related to the histories of industrialization, technology, gender, food, and America since 1865. Professor Mohun is author of Steam Laundries: Gender, Work, and Technology in the United States and Great Britain, 1880-1940 (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999). Along with Roger Horowitz, she also co-edited His and Hers: Gender, Consumption and Technology (University of Virginia Press, 1998). Gender and Technology: A Reader, co-edited with Nina Lerman and Ruth Oldenziel, was published in 2003. Through her current book project, Better Safe than Sorry: How America became a Risk Society, Professor Mohun continues to explore her ongoing interests in the relationship between cultural concepts, in this case ideas of acceptable and unacceptable risk, and the changing material context of industrial societies.

William R. Scott*, Assistant Professor of History, taught history in public schools in Los Angeles and San Francisco before coming to Delaware, where he teaches classes in history, material culture, and social studies education. His book, Dressing Down: Modernism, Masculinity, and the Leisurewear Industry in California, 1930-1960, will be published in 2012. It focuses on a transformation in style in the mid-twentieth century when men replaced the three-piece suit, once a veritable male uniform, with leisurewear on many occasions. He examines the causes and implications of this shift in vernacular style, which is connected to such divergent phenomena as the emergence of "lifestyle marketing," the development of modernist design principles, the rise of the mall, the ascension of consumerist masculinity, and the greater importance of leisure in American culture. (*Scott resigned from the University in spring 2011.)

As a teacher and material culture scholar, Lance Winn, Associate Professor of Art, is concerned with the social lives of objects: examining things in their historical contexts to answer questions seemingly unconnected to the world of objects. Winn taught at Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Chicago prior to coming to the University of Delaware, where he is the M.F.A. coordinator and works with graduate and undergraduate students in the Arts. A practicing artist, he has exhibited in the US, the Netherlands, and Canada; has curated exhibits, including “InWords" at the University Gallery that featured the work of an international group of artists who use language as material; and has written catalog essays.