Method of Analysis Piece/Reading Blog 3

The piece that I chose as part of my object analysis is this dress. Just from simple observations, I could tell there was just an incredible amount of detail within the object itself. I’m really looking forward to getting started the more research-based component of the class, especially now that I’ve read a bunch of material on the subject. This week, I got to dive deeper into the technical aspects of material culture study, with all the various models of research methods from prominent figures in the field. After reading through the different kinds of strategies in object-based research, I can see interesting aspects in each of the researchers looked at. I’m not necessarily going to adhere to solely one model, but really employ bits and pieces of the methods suggested from these researchers. All this on top of leaning towards my own strengths and preferences in terms of formulating research. Different aspects of these writers’ methods are something I will surely keep in the back of my mind as I research, as they are some of the most qualified on the subject of material culture.

The first step I will take in this research is to really analyze this dress. I will try to approach it from as many angles as I can think of. The kinds of examples of analysis from the previous reading, is definitely a kind of benchmark I should ascribe to. This kind of analysis is something I’m looking forward to doing. I will look at from both a kind of stylistic approach, analyzing such things as the color, design elements and what not, as well as the technical aspects. I’ll have to measure the different components the dress, (something I thought of yesterday when looking at the incredibly tall mannequins at the Drexel Historic Costume Collection, the mannequins reminded me how much simple measurements can matter).  As I stressed earlier, an analysis of the kinds of motifs could be important in understanding the social history surrounding the dress, as well as just another example of in-depth analysis of the object.

After I analyze the dress itself and its characteristics the next step I’ll do is trace its history. This historical analysis would work on multiple levels, tracing the history of the wearer of the object (maybe the dress was worn for some significant event?) it would be interesting if I could find some records or photographs of someone in 1870 wearing the dress. On another aspect, I’d trace the history of the department store where the dress was sold, and the kind of history gathered about this store and its founder could speak to Philadelphia’s role as a fashion center of nation. A third aspect I’d trace would be the dressmaker, as dressmakers and artisans played a vital role in creating the object itself. In order to truly research my object, I feel that’s important for me to learn how to sew, so I can truly appreciate the level of craftsmanship and effort that went into making this dress. With industrialization, I know most of it was machine-made with some handmade aspects, but I still think learning the skill will be beneficial to my research.  In terms of sources I will definitely use multiple resources to gather a history of fashion from the time, not just locally in Philadelphia but to see internationally if these standards effected some aspect of the dress. For example, we’ve learned that Philadelphia fashion is very indebted to French tastes, I’ll have to look further and see where this dress lies in that kind of context.

Some of the important things I will keep in my mind, in my analysis are what kinds of stories that can come out of this dress. I’ll want to research the history of the object itself, and that can be aided by research into the actual composition of the dress. Perhaps the textile material was only found in a very specific place and that speaks to ideas of trade and relationships between Philadelphia and other cities. On top of understanding the object itself, I will look into Darlington & Runk Co., the department store in which it was sold, tracing the history of the store and its founder. Also, I want to add more perspective to this research, beyond the kind of elite status that this dress on the surface seems to signify. The dress itself especially to modern sensibilities seems to give of an aura of high society, what with the gold embroidery and beads. In an effort to “egalitarinaize” the kind of voices in this study, I want to research more into the perspectives of ordinary seamstresses who created material like this dress. This aspect is similar to the ideas Jennifer Black advocated, examining women’s roles in creating material culture through scrapbooking, which at the time was not considered academically worth wile because of gender biases. “Historians privileged men’s work in the public sphere of politics and economy while many historical dimensions of women’s work would languish until the late twentieth century women’s movement pushed female scholars to examine and recover these topics”[1] Black stresses there is a wealth of material in scrapbooks that was scoffed at for decades because of gender biases.

The detailed analysis of the object is an incredibly important step, that is essential to articulate an understanding of material culture. This aspect fits into the material aspect of this study, and a social history of the many factors surrounding this dress fills in the details of cultural context. When these two pieces work together, the analysis is strengthened and works across more levels than a focus on one or the other.

Like Fleming research, model I think it would be incredibly beneficial to research the kinds of motifs and artistic choices within my object. No stone is left unturned in Fleming’s analysis of the cupboard, tracing the design motifs in great detail. Fleming writes, “This new mannerist decoration, such as the turned half-pendants that are broader at the top and taper towards the bottom came into the Anglo-American tradition from the Flemish Netherlands”[2] My object is embroidered with countless what looks like floral patterns and lace, that could speak to the time in which it was made, as well as work on a purely aesthetic level. I also think it would be important to look at not just similar dresses, but dresses that came a generation before and after my object. This kind of research would make the key aspects of my object more palpable by comparison, and reveal the kind of values expressed through clothing over time. This is the kind of research that Joan Severa and Merril Horswill implemented successfully. Like Charles Montgomery’s methodology I feel exploring the artistic and social contexts surrounding this dress is incredibly important. Montgomery’s background in art history is incredibly evident as he stresses the importance of context in his writings. “Whereas by law the wares of the English silversmith must be stamped with letters indicating date of manufacture…in the colonies no mark was required.”[3] An analysis of the artistic trends related to this dress in terms of style and composition, would reveal a wealth of information. Prown’s models and research (which are highly regarded by those who study material culture) suggests the most beneficial way to research material culture is through our senses, and the analysis I hope to make through identification and observations leans into this practice. “Material culture as a study is based upon the obvious fact that the existence of a man-made object is concrete evidence of the presence of a human intelligence operating at the time of fabrication”[4] This kind of analysis of an object as a sign of the human mind at work, is something I would consider when thinking of the construction of the dress itself.

Learning more about this local history through a resource like this object, I think is incredibly important and an interesting method. This research can shed light onto an aspect of Philadelphia history that speaks to one of the many reasons the city has gained notoriety in the past. Through a combination of adherence to the suggestions of prominent resources, and my own emphasis on the story of this object and the many people surrounding, a new kind of cultural context can be gleaned. By examining such an interesting object of the past, I have the opportunity to learn more about the history of the City of Brotherly Love, through a unique lens. Not only do I hope that research will speak volumes upon the social history and its importance. At the same time, I hope that the practices and methods I’ve outlined will allow me to develop as a researcher through analyzing new means of study.

[1] Jennifer M. Black “Gender in the Academy: Recovering the Hidden History of Women’s Scholarship on Scrapbooks and Albums,” Material Culture, Vol 50 no. 2 (2018), pg 46

[2] E.McClung Fleming “Artifact Study: A Proposed Model” Winterthur Portfolio 16 (1981) pg 165

[3] Charles F. Montgomery “the Connoisseurship of Artifacts” in Thomas J. Schlereth ed., Material Culture Studies in America (London: Altamira Press, 1999) pg 148

[4]  Jules David Prown, “Mind Matter” Winterthur Portfolio 17 (1982)

Pg 1

IMAGE SOURCE: Photograph taken by the author

“Fashion! Turn to…the next page” Material Culture Reading Blog Week 2


Beverly Lemire’s piece “Draping the body and dressing the home: the material culture of textiles and clothes in the Atlantic world, c. 1500-1800” engages readers to look closely into material culture. The conclusions she extracts about English trade relations are incredibly informative and interesting. Lemire’s analysis brings out a discussion suggesting can we really trace the social and political atmosphere in which an object is created through analyzing the object itself? Lemire’s research analyzes the relationship between English and Indian trade networks, through the products consumed by English markets. Lemire traces the cultural impact of the cotton products and its effect on English consumer tastes. Lemire also stresses the unique opportunities in this field, through the lens of the Atlantic World.

Lemire’s analysis of the rise of “Indian cotton” among English consumers is thoroughly detailed and traces a broader discussion of English markets. One concept that Lemire reminds her audience is, “innovations and amendments to the home and dress were designed to buffer the sometime harsh physical world”.[1] This is an essential aspect of the material should always be considered. Lemire goes even further in her analysis of “Indian cotton.” Her research doesn’t simply focus on the object itself but also the conditions that led to the object prominence. She examines records from across the centuries. Lemire notes the existence of literature such as, “The Merchant’s Ware-house Laid Open; Or the Plain-dealing Linen Draper. Shewing how to buy all sorts of Linnen and Indian goods…”[2]In Lemire’s research the culture is placed an equal level of study with the object, revealing similarities between them.

Another aspect of Beverly Lemire’s research that was incredibly eye-opening was the unique research opportunities within the study of material culture. She uses the example of Adrienne Hood’s research into textile production. In order to truly study this subject, Lemire recounts how Adrienne Hood learned how to weave.[3] Lemire praised Hood’s work stressing “a close reading of objects, particularly those routinely made and widely used, can create unexpected vantage points from which to assess the historical terrain”[4] This example stresses the unique approach to research within the field.

Lemire piece is incredibly informative about early history of western material culture. Her research does a great job of tying that early history all the way to the twentieth-century. Her use of examples and references to other prominent historians in the field really illustrate the vast amount of study that has gone into understanding material culture. One aspect I found interesting was her discussion of pockets in the 18th century, as before reading this I thought complaining about the lack of women’s pocket was a modern phenomenon. Her writings however tie this cultural discussion to its roots, and she accomplishes this with other examples as well.


Sources “Draping the body and dressing the home” Response

[1] Lemire, Beverly “Draping the body and dressing the home: the material culture of textiles and clothes in the Atlantic world, c. 1500-1800” in History and Material Culture: A Student’s Guide to Approaching Alternative Sources ed. Karen Harvey (New York: Routledge, 2009) Pg 90

[2] Ibid., Lemire pg 89

[3] Ibid., Lemire pg 92

[4] Ibid., Lemire pg 93

5 Image Source “Weaving Loom” Google Images


Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, and Ian Gaskel’s piece “A Field Hockey Dress: Fit for a Knockabout Sport” is an informative study that ties material objects to a rich history. The piece spurs a discussion, asking what role does sports play in understanding both local history and American history? The analysis in this piece provides an opportunity for a discussion across a variety of subjects. It is primarily focused on the life and experiences of the object’s donor Elizabeth Wright Plimpton. However, an examination of the material produces a wider discussion on women’s education and changing cultural perceptions in the 20th century.

The piece analyzes an important aspect of women’s education through the context of Elizabeth Plimpton’s life and material objects. It is Plimpton’s lifelong dedication to sport and intellectual improvement that spurred her to donate her old hockey uniform to her alma mater. Ulrich points out a key detail, “The dress is a more powerful record of her undergraduate days than the scrapbooks”[1] Ulrich asserts this as the attention to detail in preserving the dress some sixty years after the fact, is much more valuable than the newspaper clippings her scrapbook contains.

Beneath the surface of the study of this object is the cultural history of women and sports, and the debates of the time. While Radcliffe was in the process of shaping its own identity with students like Elizabeth Plimpton, they had to challenge the rhetoric of the time. Ulrich cites Professor Edward H. Clarke of Harvard, “Who warned that serious study might damage a young women’s reproductive capacities”[2]   This was a justification for Harvard’s unwillingness to promote co-education between the two schools. Ulrich traces the one of the many trends that led to Radcliffe’s success was through sports as well as academics. Ulrich also notes the changes in culture through an examination of Plimpton’s uniform and the appearance of previous uniforms. Ulrich analysis of the practicality of Plimpton’s uniform in comparison to others, is a meaningful example of the changes in perceptions of women in the 1920’s. Ulrich stresses the significance of this artifact by noting Elizabeth Plimpton’s admirable dedication to both Radcliffe College and physical education across her lifetime.

I found Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s piece incredibly informative, on an aspect of history I personally, wouldn’t have thought to examine. Her piece was a brief study that featured a wealth of information. Her research ties her discussion of the material effectively with the larger cultural discussions it is a product of.  One aspect I think would have made the piece more informative would be a deeper reading into the contrasts between Elizabeth Wright Plimpton’s uniform and the previous uniform. Though the later history of Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s subject provided a kind of “narrative closure” to the piece, it seemed less essential to the piece as a whole.

Sources “A Field Hockey Dress: Fit for a Knockabout Sport” Response

[1] Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, and Ian Gaskel et al., “A Field Hockey Dress: Fit for a Knockabout Sport” in Tangible Things: Making History Through Objects (New York: Oxford UP, 2015) pg 64

[2] Ibid., Ulrich pg 66

3 Image source Ibid., Ulrich pg 65

This excerpt might be my favorite piece out of the readings for this week. Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s writings in Age of Homespun Objects and Stories in the Creation of an American Myth was an incredibly insightful read. The piece seems to ask the question, “was one the precursor to women’s campaign for equal rights in America spurred by modernization of the Industrial Revolution?” My own personal experiences definitely had a hand in my impressions of this reading. The subject manner and the Ulrich analysis of changes in New England culture as a product of the Industrial Revolution was incredibly interesting and informative. Ulrich’s piece (which was referenced previously in Beverly Lemire’s writings) proved just how rich an analysis of material culture and society can be.

Ulrich uses the ordinary objects such as the unfinished stocking to the discuss the origins of American-made silk and changes in perceptions of gender as a product of modernization. Some of the examples Ulrich uses stresses the prominence of knitting in early American society. Ulrich recounts, “Whether they labored in factories, performed outwork at home, or carried their knitting needles to new homes in the West, New England women defined their lives through work”[1] This concept of women using their ideas of “work” as a source of identity comes up again and again in primary sources Ulrich uses. The productivity of women in New England of this time speaks to the American idea of the “Protestant work ethic” that is a part of the American identity. Ulrich notes in one letter Sarah Sheldon tells her son, “And should you turn out to a spend thrift…gambler, or a trifler-We should be like a tree stript of all its levels and branches” [2] Sarah Sheldon’s letters reveal the emphasis on work and the influence women of this era possessed.

Ulrich traces the changes in culture through primary sources like letters and in the objects preserved themselves. She also stresses that with modernization perceptions of women and gender radically changed. Ulrich points out “An abundance of factory made cloth expanded the standard of clothing a family required; new concepts of cleanliness required a greater investment in laundry”[3] This example of societal expectations were one of the major shifts from homespun objects to manufactured finished goods. Ulrich cites the letters of Persis Andrews, “I suffer for common shoes suitable for the season & so does my child, & I am in a great need of factory cloth…”[4] Ulrich cites many examples such as Persis Andrews of women who used their craft to display their own autonomy and provide additional income for their families. The kind of ambitions and educations these women possessed also fueled an awareness of social ills. Ulrich cites the rise of women abolitionists of this era[5] She also stresses the importance of women championing for their own rights as was the case of women factory workers, (which was a new phenomenon of this industrialization)[6]. Ulrich stresses the key point, “Women deserved to be heard because they were workers, not because they were morally superior to men”[7] This idea of women’s equality I thought was interesting as its almost anti-intertextuality with the notions expressed in Flight Maps: Adventures with Nature in Modern America from last week’s readings.

Overall, I really enjoyed this piece, especially its use of numerous female perspectives which is something that is not often the case in a study of the modernization of the antebellum period. The piece was well-developed and well researched and used both the objects and historical context to trace changes in women’s roles in a time period. As a knitter, this piece was an incredible wealth of information on a whole other level.

Current knitting work in progress is “Feather and Fan” stitch Ulrich mentions in the reading

[1] Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, “An Unfinished Stocking, New England 1873,” in Age of Homespun: Objects and Stories in the Creation of an American Myth (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2001) pg 376

[2] Ibid. Ulrich pg 385

[3] ibid., pg 389

[4] Ibid., pg 387

[5] Ibid., pg 389

[6] Ibid., pg 392

[7]ibid., pg 390

8 Image Source Personal Photography Taken by the Writer

Joan Severa and Merrill Horswill’s piece “Costume as Material Culture” was an incredibly descriptive and interesting reading. The piece spurs a discussion “what is more informative of historical study, traditional approaches or material culture?” The piece developed in-depth the parameters of studying material cultural, using the example of women’s fashion effectively.  Not only did the piece work with definitions of material culture, but also provided a working model and tested it with in-depth analysis of examples. The model that Severa and Horswill described can be an effective standard for any sort of analysis of an object in the study of material culture. The combination of all these elements made the piece an effective reading into the field of the material.

One thing that is interesting that Horswill and Severa point out are the variety of definitions of “material culture.” The authors cite two examples of definitions that offer radically different identifications of the study. They cite author Leland Ferguson’s definition “All of the things people make from the physical world-farm tools, ceramics, houses etc.”[1] whereas Jules Prown defines material culture as “the study through artifacts (and other pertinent historical evidence) of belief systems”[2] These two definitions reveal the complexities of material culture and the kinds of objects that fall under the definition of material culture studies. Though Severa and Horswill focus on the fashion and how analysis of fashion reveals a deeper cultural context and study. They write on the costume, “…may be expected to reveal evidence of attitudes, belief systems, and assumptions which shed light on a culture”[3] Not only do the authors establish their priority on fashion studies, they also explain and contextualize their analysis.

Severa and Horswill provide an interesting outline of their methodology and also explain the kind of jargon associated with material culture in layman’s terms. This is incredibly helpful to someone like myself who have just dipped their toes into learning about material culture. One thing Severa and Horswill include is a “Fashion note” as well as their analysis. “In order to check the style of any women’s dress of the nineteenth century, it is first necessary to relate it to a fashion plate… published records that indicate American versions of French fashion plates.”[4] This piece of information on its own is a useful tip when studying material culture. On another level, it is also reveals the impossible standards of women’s body images of the time. So, these fashion plates on their own speak to the same kind of belief systems that the authors use as an aspect of definitions of material culture. The analysis that Severa and Horswill use on their study of the three dresses is a wealth of information and practices in the study of material culture.

As a whole Severa and Horswill’s writing illustrate a practical model for studies in material culture. Their analysis shows the true depths of a study in material objects that speaks volumes compared to traditional historical analysis of a time period. I feel that their analysis works on so many levels because they provide the reader with both written analysis of these objects and photographic so the reader can directly refer to their conclusions with the object itself, and even draw their own interpretations.

Sources “Costume as Material Culture” Response

[1] Joan Severa and Merrill Horswill “Costume as Material Culture” in Dress 15 (1989) pg 51

[2] Ibid., Severa and Horswill pg 51-52

[3] ibid., Severa and Horswill, pg 53

[4]Ibid., Severa and Horswill pg 56

5 Image Source “Fashion Plates” Google images

Valerie Steele’s piece was an insightful resource for information about fashion in the context of museums. Her expertise in the field shines through her in-depth analysis of the importance of “fashion museums” in the context of museum studies. Her piece suggests a discussion, “What would we do to preserve such an important part of our culture without fashion museums?” She applies methods articulated by Jules Prown of material culture studies. She uses her own research as a concrete example of the need for both a better appreciation of material culture and fashion museums as a resource for the field.

Like many other pieces, Valerie Steele stresses the importance and beneficial impact of object based research. She uses the methodology of Jules Prown as a guiding tool of her argument hammering this importance. Also like the kind of methodology spelled out by Joan Severa and Merril Horswill, Steele stresses the length and process that goes into research into material objects. Steele highlights an important part of material cultural studies. “Although Prown does not explicitly say so, the comparison of objects is also an important part of this methodology”[1] Here Steele brings up a good point, which is another practice that can be useful in a study of material objects

The unique and interesting aspect of Steele’s piece is her analysis of fashion museums, which is especially informative given her status as the curator for the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology. She cites the kind of cultural backlash to the concept of fashion museum and deftly argues in support of such an institution. . “Books after all represent the accumulated wisdom of the ages, while the fashions of the past are often regarded as a monument to the vanity and defective tastes of our ancestors”[2] Steele proves with her own research and examples, backed up by an articulation of the methodology of both Prown and Fleming, the necessity as a culture for fashion museums. She cites how a variety of audiences have engaged with the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology. “Every year, thousands of students and hundreds of designers and manufacturers utilize the museum’s collections, which consists of approximately 50,000 garments and accessories”[3] Here Steele counters the ideas of a fashion museum’s existence is purely based on vanity.

I loved that this piece provided a new kind of context for material culture through a public history kind of analysis. Valerie Steele’s passion (and coincidental family history) made me want to look more into this museum I hadn’t even heard of till reading this piece. One of the slight criticisms I have about this piece is the obvious bias Steele has for Jules Prown, she stresses Prown’s methodology and leaves this more developed than contemporary analysis by Fleming. Other than that, Steele’s piece is very well organized and informative. When I researched this museum, I discovered that part of their collection is some of the clothes worn by Lauren Bacall. I pulled up an example of the kind of analysis of the material objects they have on their website.

Sources for “A Museum of Fashion is More Than a Clothes-Bag” Reading

[1] Valerie Steele, “A Museum of Fashion is More Than a Clothes-Bag” in Fashion Theory 2 (1998) pg 330

[2] Ibid., Steele pg 330

[3] Ibid., Steele pg 334

4 Image Source The Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology Website “Gifts of Lauren Bacall”


“Clothing, Hats, Jeans, and…Definitions of Self” Reading Blog on Material Culture 1

This article by Jennifer Price provides a concrete example of the impact of material culture on the public sphere. The piece sparks a discussion, “Was social reforms like conservation based on outcry over nature, or differing opinions of gender norms?” The article traces the origins of the modern American conservation movement, not to ecological activists of the 1960’s, or federal conservation acts, but to an uproar over women’s hats.  The analysis of the efforts in the 1900’s, that led to major social change, is inherently rooted in material objects such as women’s hats.

A major aspect of this activism was tied to social structures of the Victorian Era and perceptions of femininity. Victorian ideals in America had rigid stances on gender roles dividing men and women and public perceptions of both. “The definition of Woman as the keeper of morality made this one issue resonate at a higher moral volume than any other”[1] Victorian perceptions of gender roles made women’s stance on issues more salient compared to those of men. This allowed the creation of “women’s clubs” that was the origins for the Audubon Society, which spearheaded most of the efforts for the conservation movement over women’s hats.

The debate revealed more about perceptions of femininity and gender that was beneath the surface of material objects. The rhetoric of both men and women of the era, reveals how closely tied the material aspects of society are tied to personal identity. These perceptions changed with the times, as noted by Price that in the past “…French elite defined beauty as a shared essential attribute of both women and birds”[2] This definition of beauty reveals the close ties between American and French sense of fashion. Price notes that public perceptions changed radically. “The place for dead birds, is not above a pretty woman’s face”[3] The radical shift in perceptions of women’s fashion was directly tied by female activists who pushed for conservation and accountability of natural resources. ‘the blowup over the bird hats had engendered the creation of new organizations, laws, preserves and policies”[4] This activism, Price ties to modern American conservation methods and movements, revealing the impact material objects can have by the continuation of this discussion in the American way of life.

This discourse speaks to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s notions of material culture, “Thus, the kinds of selves individuals chose to build have great consequences for the material culture and the natural environment that must be despoiled in order to create it”[5] This quote ties into the tangible impact of material culture on American society. One determinant to Price’s field of research is most of the key figures in this debate are wealthy women, and this stratifies the historical narrative presented. The key themes of material objects and their effects on the environment and social norms, is something that is at the core of Price’s analysis of the Audubon Society and public discourse over women’s hats. Price’s research reveals the influence of material objects on social norms and social change.

Figure 1: Image of Rhetoric used by conservationists [6]


Clare Sauro’s writings on fashion industry acts as narrative framework for the broader context of the city of Philadelphia’s rise to prominence and decline in terms of the fashion world. The piece reveals the question, “Can Philadelphia return to the heights of a fashion center in America?” This historical research reveals the variety of trends and tastes of the American identity. These shifts reflect the structure and dismantling of gender roles through a history of Philadelphia’s fashion prominence.

In the 1800s, Philadelphia was the fashion capital of the American Republic. These tastes were a reflection of early American influences. Clare Sauro writes, “Despite this reputation, the fashions worn by Philadelphians largely originated in Europe’[1]. The prominence of French aesthetics on American cultural thought, was also noted by Jennifer Price. Another example of Philadelphia influence in material fields, was through its publishing network. Sauro uses the example of Godey’s Lady Book, “Became famous for its hand tinted fashion plates. These… often were redrawn from French originals”[2] Through these published magazines Philadelphia in a sense controlled American perceptions of high fashion through many ways.  By maintaining a stance on both the craft itself and the dissemination of tastes.

Sauro points to the decline of Philadelphia’s prominence in the fashion industry to changes in social norms in the 20th century. As fashion tastes for men and women shifted into greater variety, Philadelphia at the time became less of an authority on modern fashion trends, in comparison to New York. Sauro notes due to economic hardships, “By 1931 French imports had dropped 40 percent as department stores, specialty shops, and manufactures turned to domestic talent to produce new styles”[3] These new styles, were more casual than the norms established by Philadelphian department stores. Another aspect that affected Philadelphia fashion was the prominence of suburban malls that began in the 1950’s which drew consumers away from the city. “Although no longer a global center of manufacturing, the Philadelphia region remained headquarters to several prominent fashion companies such as Lily Pulitzer, Destination Maternity, and Urban Outfitters”[4] The fact that Philadelphia is still a home to these fashion institutions speaks to the intrinsic value Philadelphia has created through its long history in the fashion.

This piece was incredibly informative about Philadelphia’s long history in the fashion culture. This narrative starting with the early days of the American Republic, and Clare Sauro provides the evolution to modern times. Given the social context of Philadelphia’s history in the spotlight of American fashion, it is no wonder the city is such a wealth of information and resources on material culture. Clare Sauro traces this history of Philadelphia’s fashion and illustrates many figures tied to the city. She touches on Grace Kelly, one of the icons of Hollywood Cinema, and other material like a Stetson hat. At the same time, Sauro takes time to connect Philadelphia fashion to other prominent individuals like Mae Reeves.[5] Overall the piece is an important research material for understanding local context of material culture, and American identity fashion shaped.

Figure 2: Image from Godey’s Lady’s Book [6]

The concepts tied to Clare Sauro’s piece on “Fashion” and David Sullivan’s “Department Stores” overlap in numerous ways. The subjects are truly two sides of the same coin, and one could not achieve the same meteoric success in American history without the other. The piece brings on a discussion “Was opulence the key to a successful department store, or its role as a community institution?” The prominence of fashion in Philadelphia was only made possible through the prestige placed on department stores by the city itself. This piece offers an interesting analysis and historical context for a modern-day institution on a local level. The emphasis placed on both fashion and department stores in Philadelphia adds to the city’s wealth of resources and history of material culture.

David Sullivan chronicles the history of department stores in the context of Philadelphia. The prominence of this is important as the Sullivan notes the decisions and design choices made in Philadelphia developed “A nation model, Market Street became home to the giant stores known as the Big Six which were close to the rail terminals and subway stations”[1]. Philadelphia’s role in defining areas of fashion did not just emphasis the material goods, but also the presentation and consumption via these opulent department stores.  One of the most prominent of these department stores was Wanamaker’s, which became national recognized as a success. “The building was opened in 1911 with an address from President William H. Taft, making it the only department store to be dedicated by a sitting president” This presidential seal of approval reveals how important of an institution these department stores were to Americans in the 1900’s.  However, lauded these department stores were, an important factor in their success was at the local level, not the national. Sullivan emphasizes, “the giant stores became stages for pageantry that underscored their role in civic life and the culture of downtown” It was this kind of pageantry, such as window-dressing for Christmas made these department stores such a success. However, just as Philadelphia declined in terms of fashion authority, in recent history these cultural institutions struggled to remain salient. “While department stores seemed to be booming in the 1960s, they had in fact passed their peak as discounters, malls, and big-box stores offered wider selections”[2] This decline would persist throughout the 1970s and ‘80s with most of the famous “Big Six” sold and absorbed into larger corporations instead of the original family owned business of the 1870s.

This piece provided a new and informative history on a subject that, while is a cultural institution seems to have been understudied by traditional historians. It reveals the transformations of a local community across multiple decades. Like Philadelphia’s role in the fashion industry, its prominent department stores reveal how much of an emphasis is placed on material culture. It is relevant that as Sullivan notes, Philadelphia was one of the first major cities to operate these massive department.

Figure 3: Illustration of John Wanamaker’s Department Store [3]

The piece “Why Clothing is Not Superficial” by Daniel Miller is an interesting examination of cultural practices and clothing. The piece encourages a discussion of why has an in-depth study of clothing has not come sooner, when the subject is so rich in understanding the human identity. His piece examines practices of clothing and identity that is a cross-cultural phenomenon that reveals more about human nature and attitudes than anything else. Miller uses numerous examples to make a case for an in-depth study of material objects such as clothing, and the rich analysis of the aesethic choices people make.

Miller’s close study of Trinidadian cultural perceptions provide an interesting example of different trends and fashion. Miller cites the Trinidad’s custom of Carnival “Individuals may spend weeks, if not months, creating elaborate and time-consuming costumes. But these must be discarded and remade annually”[1] This emphasis on material and individuality Miller connects to deep rooted components of Trinidadian culture and history. With this example, Miller suggests “Next, we need to look in more detail at how things such as clothing come not to represent people, but to actually constitute who they are”[2] It is with these insights as well as other cultural examples that Miller argues a need to study clothing as a topic of academic merit.

Miller traces the roots of superficiality in material objects directly to a specific philosophical train of thought known as “depth ontology”. He explains, “The assumption is that being-what we truly are- is located deep inside ourselves and is in direct opposition with the surface”[3]  This analysis directly sums up the reasoning for why clothing has so long been ignored as a cultural study. Miller’s analysis of Trinidadian fashion culture flaunts these conventions of self, proving the direct opposite is true.

Miller’s examination of clothing and different cultural factors provides an interesting and informative reading. He brings to light information and analysis to argue for a more serious study of material culture. Through the examples featured, he reveals succinctly more about humanity and cultural understandings than a dozen philosophical tomes. The piece truly provided a fair reasoning for a study on a global scale and how material objects reveal more about a culture. It is important that these piece touches on diverse and more internationally based focus on material cultural studies. Especially when so much of the literature in these readings are based on American material objects. The piece brings up numerous examples of customs in Trinidad. However, one way to make his point more concrete is more symmetry in his examples. Later in the text Miller focuses solely on the sari and analyzes this. If Miller had provided an actual example of Trinidadian clothing instead of customs and practices, his argument would be a bit clearer. Despite this the piece was still incredibly informative and brings forth a discussion on clothing and the deeper cultural meanings material objects can possess.


Figure 4: Image of a Women in a Sari [4]

Leslie Shannon Miller’s piece, “The Many figures of Eve: Styles of Womanhood Embodied in a late 19th century corset” traces the history of the use of corsets and the weight of public perceptions on a material object. Miller’s research brings about an important discussion of the toxic effects of patriarchal values imposed on women. The inherent question in the piece seems to be why did women spend countless years suffering under these inherently harmful conditions. Miller argues corsets more than any object speaks to patriarchal values and morality, that were harmful to women on a psychological level and had physical repercussions. Miller’s analysis speaks to the fact that humans place multiple meanings on material objects that can have serious effects on an individual.

Miller goes into extensive detail on various components of what makes up a corset, (with helpful pictures) and the implications of this.  She sums this up in, “Likewise the shape that the corset bestowed upon her body was meant less for her appreciation than for the gaze of the public”[1]. This notion is rooted deep in the material object itself, with its unnecessary but aesthetically pleasing lacework. Besides contextualizing and analyzing the corset itself, Miller goes into the harmful effects women suffered by simply wearing the piece of clothing. “The corset prevented all types of bending from the waist, any form of deep breathing and sitting in any positon other than on the edge of a chair”[2] One major aspect of the corset that truly speaks to the harmful effects is the whalebone that acts as a spine to the corset. The combination of silk and whalebone summarizes the toxic dichotomy of the social factors related to the object. “The wearer’s tactile experience was thus one of firm whalebone encased in plain-weave pongee: the gentler satin weave was reserved for those who beheld her” More than anything the very design of the object reveals more about social expectations of women in the 19th century.

This piece was incredibly well researched and an interesting read. The level of detail that Miller goes into her analysis of a corset, made the daily suffering of 19th century women all the more palpable. It brings to life the day to day realities that are based on antiquated morals, and Miller’s research made aspects much easier to understand. One suggestion on the piece would have to be, often Miller brings up anti-corset literature and medical effects of corset. A visual representation of these would bring the reality of this suffering home to a modern audience. On that note, reading this piece reminded me of an article I read about the movie The Favourite. The film is a period piece on 17th century England, and actress Emma Stone discussed her costumes (which featured corsets). “After about a month my organs shifted because they have to”[3] The modern example adds to the real-world effects of corsets Leslie Shannon Miller documents.

Figure 5: Image from The Favourite [4]

Helen Sheumaker’s piece “Grooming, Clothing, and Accessories” provides an incredibly detailed analysis on material objects. The piece spurs as discussion asking if these ordinary objects are so significant to American identity why have they not been studied sooner? The specific examples Sheumaker uses would be considered antiques to modern audiences, and old-fashioned such as lip gloss from the 1930’s. However, these objects as Sheumaker points out have an incredibly long and interesting history, and are objects that are not only the roots of modern conveniences. On another level, these objects simultaneously speak to the values and ideas of American culture and identity between men and women in American society.

One of the more interesting examples of Helen Sheumaker’s analysis was “Lorna Doone Jeans.” This object is one of the best examples of society values can evolve and shape the definition of an object. Jeans are an invention that is uniquely American and Lorna Doone’s disruption of the norms was out of necessity of her lifestyle, but also reflect how cultural values change over time. Helen Sheumaker recounts of Lorna Doone, one of many who became part of the counter culture of the 1960’s. Sheumaker describes the uniqueness of her jeans, “The jeans, originally typical blue jeans, traveled her patched with fabrics from her adventures until 1975”[1]. Sheumaker explains the deeper context, “For beatniks, hippies and the serious-minded civil rights workers, to wear denim was to demonstrate a desire for social and cultural change”[2] This example shows how material objects can become so heavily associated with a specific time, place, or set of values, on top of remaining an object.

Helen Sheumaker’s research spans numerous time periods of American history through the context of simple household objects. It is an interesting approach. Not only that but Sheumaker uses this opportunity as vehicle to reveal diverse stories within the American mythos. For example, she takes time to promote the ingenuity of African-American innovators when faced with a consumer base who was not being marketed to in mainstream media. One such was Madam C. J. Walker who, “Created an industry of black hair care that included products, salons, and franchises”[3] This kind of attention to detail is incredibly important and educational of the deeper history within material objects.

While Helen Sheumaker’s piece is incredibly well-researched and covers a variety of topics, it’s description and significance focus seem almost like set-up. Readings these sections made me want to read more content and information on one topic, only to find Sheumaker’s analysis had reached its conclusions and moved on to the next topic. If the piece had a narrower focus, it would be more effective, though I realize it would only cater to an incredibly niche audience if done the piece had done this.   Despite this, Helen Sheumaker’s writing provides a unique understanding of material objects and the long histories that are closed tied with them.

Figure 6 Image of Lorna Doone Jeans [4]

[1] Sheumaker, Helen “Grooming Clothing and Accessories”, from Artifacts from Modern America (Santa Barbra: Greenwood, 2018) pg 111

[2] Ibid., Sheumaker, pg 144

[3] Ibid., Sheumaker pg 108

[4] Ibid., Sheumaker pg 110

[1] Miller, Leslie Shannon “The Many Figures of Eve: Styles of Womanhood Embodied in a Late 19th Century Corset” in American Artifacts: Essays in Material Culture ed. By Jules David Prown and Kenneth Haltman, (East Lansing: Michigan State Press 2000) pg 136

[2] Ibid., Miller, Leslie pg 136

[3] Nordine, Michael ‘The Favourite’; Emma Stone’s Corset Made Her Organs Shift’ IndieWire 27 Oct 2018

[4] Image Source Ibid., Nordine, Michael

[1] Miller, Daniel “Why Clothing is Not Superficial” Stuff (Malden, Massachusetts: Policy Press, 2010) pg 15

[2] Ibid., Miller, pg 23

[3] Ibid., pg 16

[4] Image Source,“Why Saris are Indian Material Culture” Google Images JSTOR Daily

[1] Sullivan, David “Department Stores” The Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia (Rutgers University, 2017)

[2] Ibid., Sullivan “Department Stores”

[3] Image Source “Wanamaker’s” Google Images Department Store Museum website

[1] Sauro, Clare “Fashion”The Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia (Rutgers University, 2017)

[2] Ibid., Sauro

[3] Ibid., Sauro

[4] Ibid., Sauro

[5] Ibid., Sauro

[6] Image Source “Treasure of the Rare Books Room- Godey’s Lady’s Book” Google Images Milwaukee Public Library Website


[1] Price, Jennifer “When Women were Women, Men were Men, and Birds were Hats” from Flight Maps: Adventure with Nature in Modern America (New York: Basic Books, 2000) pg 72

[2] Ibid., Price, pg 81

[3] Ibid., Price pg 83

[4] Ibid., Price pg 61

[5] Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly “Why We Need Things” pg 28

[6] Ibid., Price pg 83

Statement of Purpose 2019

My main intellectual interests have remained tied to history and film studies. After last semester, my historical interest has stretched into the public history sphere of things along with other more traditional historical topics.  Through past experiences learning about public history, I had the opportunity to broaden my understanding of what history really is. Since my experiences last semester, I decided that public history is the kind of historical field I’m most suited for, in contrast to academia or teaching. Over the winter break, I started making a list of interesting museums, like the new one out in California all about movies. These are places I’d like to visit at some point, (with the possibility of working at some of these places on some lofty level of aspirations).

I’m excited to learn more about material culture, one aspect I find interesting about the field is the application of analyze and research methods to objects that normally wouldn’t be given that kind of treatment. Just by looking through the reading material for this class, I’ve seen the vast number of researchable things that can be filed under material culture. Even with the exercise we did in class, the diversity of materials we got to examine reveals the scope of the study of material culture. This is a topic of study I really haven’t had the chance to study in-depth before. So I am looking forward to the opportunities that come with it. I also have never been to the Drexel Costume Collection, so I am looking forward to visiting there soon!