Roads, Homes, and Office Spaces Material Culture Reading Blog 6

This first piece by Angel Kwolek-Folland provides an interesting analysis on the material culture of the office space. The piece asks how does gender and environment interact on a large scale? The author ties changes in corporate workplaces to gender norms of the period. She argues that though corporations tried to enforce strict gender practices that alienated male and female works, human nature subverted this. Kwolek-Folland sums up the original goals of corporations, “Out of concern for efficiency, smooth employee relations, and a positive public image they presented the corporation as the custodian of employee morals and social interaction.”[1] This concept of the custodian of employee morals, is evident in the layout of an office separated by gender. Kwolek-Follands points out this did not stop “…a young man’s frequent trips by a young woman’s desk”[2] alla Jim and Pam from The Office. This analysis was incredibly interesting, but one thing that is noticeable about the piece is that it focuses much of its analysis on gender but doesn’t acknowledge race and work relations as another form of division in a workspace.

The second piece “White and Black Landscapes” provided an interesting perspective. The piece seems to ask how can multiple histories emerge from a single building? Upton notes the very landscape of Virginia was created to enforce the rigid social hierarchy of slavery. In architectural styles of plantations, were specifically designed to validate a planter’s elevated social status. “Each barrier served to reinforce the impression of John Tayloe’s centrality, and each in addition affirmed the visitor’s status as she or he passed through it”[3] This analysis contrasted with the separation of slaves in this landscape provided incredibly informative. Robert Weyeneth’s analysis in “The Architecture of Racial Segregation: The Challenges of Preserving the Problematical Past,” takes similar concepts of “white and black landscapes” further outlining the separation of black and white spaces during the Jim Crow era South.

J.B Jackson’s piece takes these ideas of landscape and place even further, tracing the roots of landscape and it’s evolution into, “A composition of man-made or man modified spaces to serve as infrastructure or background for our collective existence”[4] This concept in partnership with the examples of the varied landscapes in antebellum America in Upton’s piece make of an interesting discussion of the man-made notion of landscapes. These are topics that are often overlooked and under-appreciated in historical study, as mere background.

The next piece provides an excellent resource on the different aspects of everyday histories through subjects. This resource provides information on architecture, parks, and boardinghouses among other various topics. The interest in architecture and styles reflects the kind of connoisseurship study tied to material culture with a more practical set of subjects. Its analysis of each subject is short but informative, and as a whole provides many important details of American society over time.


[1] Angel Kwolek-Folland, “The Gendered Environment of the Corporate Workplace, 1880-1930,” The Material Culture of Gender: The Gender of Material Culture, ed. by Katharine Martinez and Kenneth L. Ames, (Hanover, New Hampshire: University Press of New England, 1997) Pg 161

[2] Ibid., Kwolek-Folland pg 173

[3] Dell Upton, “White and Black Landscapes in Eighteenth-Century Virginia,” in Robert Blair St. George, ed., Material Life in America, 1600-1860 (Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1988).  pg 364

[4]J.B. Jackson, “The Word Itself,” and “A Pair of Ideal Landscapes,” Discovering the Vernacular Landscape. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1986),  pg 8

IMAGE SOURCE-Google Images “Roman Roads” from the article “8 ways Roads Helped Rome Rule the Ancient World” from

Philadelphia, The Dining Room, and more…Material Culture Blog 5

I was excited to read more from Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, as I enjoyed reading her other material a few weeks ago. Whereas her last writings discussed solely women and material culture, this piece focuses on the social construct of gender. The piece asks, “How has gender perceptions effect how we view things, and how were things perceived in the past?” Her analysis of furniture and comparisons with art of the period was particularly informative and striking. It also revealed how different attributes were conceived as gender defined in the past. “In Copely iconography, pen and paper are simultaneously marks of gentility and of industry-but only for males”[1] This example shows how different symbols tied to gender that modern viewers can miss, because of their own internal notions of gender. Ulrich also uses material culture as way of tracing family histories through inheritance. “The Sherburne high chest, like the Barnard cupboard, help us understand how objects preserve lineages through time”[2] This analysis stresses another context to view studies in material culture. This next piece, “Death in the Dining Room,” seems to ask, “how closely related are aesthetics and the culture that provided them?” Kenneth Ames, does an interesting analysis on the similarities between the prosperity and imperialistic tendencies displayed in the Fourdinois sideboard and the Victorian society it was created in. “These sideboards reaffirmed an ancient view, recorded as far back as the Book of Genesis, that humankind should have dominion, ‘over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air and over the cattle, and over all of the earth”[3] These kinds of aspects of Victorian culture are seen hand in hand, with the material in this article.

The next article, “Master’s of a Craft: Philadelphia’s Black Public Waiters, 1820-50,” was incredibly informative as well, diving into a new perspective on Philadelphia material culture. It was an inclusive and interesting way of examining aspects of material culture. Because my object is so formal, this kind of study is something I will keep in mind. Dayna M. Pilgrim suggests, “Black public waiters such as Robert Bogles and Randol Shepard raised their work to a high art, leveraged the cultural capital of Philadelphia”[4] This article informed why Philadelphia was such a prominent city in the early days of American history, not just as a fashion capital but food as well. The final article, “The Furniture of Thomas Day: A Reevaluation,” alluded to more perspectives on analysis of material culture through examining the works of Thomas Day. Prown remarks, “American furniture scholarship has generally failed to acknowledge the contributions of slaves and free black artisans”[5] His piece was incredibly articulate on this vacuum of knowledge that is only just beginning to include analysis like this on Thomas Day. His piece overall acts as a call to arms, for more research on the link between African-American cultural heritage and the landscape of American furniture.


[1] Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, “Furniture as Social History” in Luke Beckerdite and William N. Hosley, eds. American Furniture (Hanover: University Press of New England, 1995), 35-64. Pg 45

[2] Ibid., pg 64

[3] Kenneth Ames, “Death in the Dining Room,” Death in the Dining Room and Other Tales of Victorian Culture, (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1992) 44-96. pg 71

[4] Dayna M. Pilgrim, “Master’s of a Craft: Philadelphia’s Black Public Waiters, 1820-50,” The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography (October 2018), 269-293.  pg 272

[5] Johnathan Prown, “The Furniture of Thomas Day: A Reevaluation,” Winterthur Portfolio, (1998) Vol. 33, No. 4, 215-229. Pg 218

IMAGE SOURCE Ibid., Prown pg 216

Home is where…The Rich Cultural Analysis on Gender Roles and Objects is! Material Culture Reading Blog 4

     In Small Things Forgotten like other pieces covering material culture, stresses the importance of understanding both written sources and the unorthodox analysis from material objects. Through many examples, Deetz reveals with much archeological jargon, the values of early American societies through ordinary objects. His detailed research into gravestone motifs, was especially informative in understanding these concepts. “The period of decline of death’s-heads coincide with the decline of orthodox Puritanism”[1]. This kind of analysis was interesting besides being incredibly morbid. It wouldn’t have been the first place I would have thought to look at when examining material culture, so I think that’s why his analysis worked for me. Another piece of information I was not aware of till, Deetz mentioned it was the concept of “probate records” I decided something like this would be incredibly useful in researching my object, if I could get a hold of it.

Pearson and Mullins’ analysis, using similar practices to Deetz, reveals the methods of a company’s balancing act over conservative sympathies and socio-political realities related to women. The researchers document the different variations of Barbie across decades, which reveals this dichotomy. “In either instance, the domestication of Barbie likely more or less accurately reflected a society which divided with regard to women’s roles”[2] Through a detailed chronology of Barbie’s different accessories and fashion (from outfits such as Dentist Barbie and ‘What’s Cookin’?’) the researchers prove this point.

Whereas Pearson and Mullins analysis focuses on a company maintain gender roles for profit, Shrum’s research concludes the opposite. Shrum’s analysis focused is on the social history of the device Mr. Coffee. Her research into the early methods of coffee production, and the World War II era realities of coffee were incredibly interesting. Her analysis was not like the sort of lab report data heavy aspects of material culture on dimensions and what not. Her examples of how coffee was made in the percolator devices was informative though, and the length of time just describing this, made the amount of time people of the past had to spend making coffee more palpable. Most of her research though brought up conflicting ideas of masculinity and gender roles in the 1970’s.  “Having Mr. Coffee-both the machine and DiMaggio-in the kitchen functioned to reassure them that they could take on this new role without being emasculated”[3] This social reality in terms of material culture is important, especially as women were leaving the domestic sphere and working in large numbers for the first time since World War II. Overall this social context and the material object was incredibly informative. These readings brought together archeological practices onto domestic objects, which revealed important details of the lives of ordinary people.


[1] James Deetz, In Small Things Forgotten (New York: Anchor 1996) Pg 69

[2] Pearson and Mullins “Domesticating Barbie: An Archeology of Barbie Material Culture and Domestic Ideology” International Journal of Historical Archeology (December 1999) Vol 3 No 4 pg 257


[3] Rebecca K. Shrum “Selling Mr. Coffee: Design Gender and the Branding of a Kitchen Appliance” Winterhur Portfolio, (2014) Vol 46, Vol 4 pg 292

IMAGE SOURCE: Google Images Pinterest

Object Description

This week, I got to do some independent research at the Drexel Historic Costume Collection, with the guidance of Clare Sauro and Monica Stevens-Smyth. This research gave me an opportunity to really analyze my object on multiple levels. Through this careful analysis, I received more information about the object itself, and the conventions of the time. I also, honestly had a great time, and it was a really informative and exciting experience.

Some technical details about the dress itself include its measurements. They are as followed; the full length of the bodice is 31 inches, the waist (single across) is 11 ¾ inches, (so this woman had a 23-inch waist, which is pretty small). The back-waist length of the bodice was 31 inches. The sleeve length (from its shoulder seam to the lace fringe of the sleeve) is 18 inches, and the width of the sleeve at the elbow is 5 ½ inches. The front of the skirt is 39 inches, and the back of the skirt measures 55 inches. The total circumference of the skirt is 131 inches, (accounting for the total of the measurement of the front of the skirt which was 57inches and the back which was 74 inches.) What the measurements revealed that I found incredibly interesting was the measurements of the dress revealed the height of the woman. By comparing the waist and skirt to a 5’6 mannequin at the Costume Collection, the woman who owned the dress was 5 ft. I was surprised when I heard this, that of all the items I could have chosen, I picked something that was actually fitted for someone my height, and it sort of humanized the whole research experience in a way.

The more stylistic components were also incredibly informative. Getting to the material of the dress, it is primarily made of silk of a cream color. This color closely resembled what the dress looked like in its day, unlike certain dyes that have the ability to change the color of the material as it fades. The kind of weaving with the floral motifs is gold, and these detail elements were speculated to be machine made. The dress was meant to be worn outdoors, based on observation it’s not as formal as a ball gown. It could be early evening or afternoon dress, it’s stylistic components could even place it as a bridal dress! Regardless of what occasion the dress was worn for, it is definitively from the early stages of the bustle period, circa 1870. Since the silk textile itself is so complicated with the gold weaving and what not, it is probably French in design. The dress also contains more embellishing than the weaving. On both the bodice and the skirt, it has glass beads (both the clear and white beads featured on the dress are glass) and glass pearls (they’re probably not actual pearls though). On the bodice especially, the dress also has more silk gold flower as a design element. The back of the bodice features more silk ribbons and silk tassels, with pearls as more embellishment. The collar and the sleeves of the dress have lace on it as well and silk flowers, this lace has yellowed with age and was probably a lighter color at the time it was made). One interesting aspect was that on closer inspection, an observer could recognize that the lace was handmade, given the irregularities of the lace.

Given the time period, whoever wore this dress would definitely had worn a corset with it. An interesting notion I learned was how the corset would have affected the appearance of the dress as well the information I learned from “The Many Figures of Eve” reading. For one thing, because the wearer had a corset the back bodice would have looked incredibly curved when worn, which changed the way I pictured the dress, given it’s static placement on the observation table. It was also easier to visualize how the corset would have affected the wearer when I could see the dress in front of me. Overall because of the many designs and other elements of the dress, it would have been worn by someone who was well-off (which especially clear in it’s coloring I mean It’s a gold dress). Another aspect considered was the fact that that the dress itself is heavy. I did not have the opportunity to physically weigh the dress, but the sheer size and volume of the skirt reveals this alone, especially when compared to something like the lace dress that is also another object we’ve looked at.

This was the first time I got to see the skirt of the dress in full, as before it was kept in the box. The skirt has many stylistic embellishments, for the sake of fashion. Examples of this include a continuation of the floral motif weavings, and more beading on the skirt. It also has asymmetrical cinched pieces of silk for aesthetic purposes. The underskirt is made of a twill-cotton fabric and not silk like the other pieces of the dress. Inside the skirt is also a piece of ribbon which was not originally part of the dress, it was added later on. The skirt itself is a full skirt with a train, and an interesting aspect of the interior of the skirt is that it has “loose plainweave” silk which was a pleated liner to catch dirt from getting on the dress itself.

The seams on the dress are very simple and standard of the time, for example the center back seam, of the bodice is machine made, whereas the finishing and label were added by hand. What makes this dress stand out is the more outlandish and stylistic aspects of the piece. Inside the bodice is a piece of ribbon known as the Petersham, used as an anchor around the wearer’s waist. Since the Petersham displays “Darlington & Runk Co. Philadelphia,” the name of the department store where it was sold, the dressmaker could have worked on this dress in the store itself. As a whole, this deep dive into the appearance of this dress was a unique and rewarding opportunity.