New digs.

This month I started a new position as the Associate Director and Oral Historian for the Center for the History of Business, Technology, and Society at the Hagley Museum and Library. I’m eager to continue the public and oral history work I began with Under Connecticut Skies, to have a chance to utilize my curatorial and digital media skills, and to work with the amazing people and collections here at Hagley. It’s also a delight to come each day to the stunning nineteenth-century industrial landscape that is the lower Brandywine. Come see our amazing machine shop if you’re in Wilmington!


It’s always reassuring to know that there are several of these on the shelf where you work…

McMaster catalogs in the trade literature collections, National Museum of American History.
McMaster catalogs in the trade literature collections, Smithsonian Libraries, National Museum of American History.

…although, of course, in a history museum we use them a little differently.

For more information on the amazing trade literature collection at American History, you can search the holdings, browse selected digitized items, or come and visit.

Beginning a new project.

One of the wonderful things about finishing the Ph.D. is the way it frees you up to think about new projects. There are two that have been percolating for me of late: one, which relates to what I’ve come to think of as the “sciences of rural life”—fields like agricultural economics, rural sociology, and large swaths of home economics—and the way they organize and create knowledge; and a second, which deals with the history of the modern office, in particular the clerical work and information organization that support it.

Since beginning my postdoc at the National Museum of American History, I have realized that the Smithsonian has great resources for this second project, and it would be a good idea to start doing some research in that vein while I’m here. I’m thinking in particular about the collection of trade catalogs the museum has, as well as the Warshaw Collection of Business Americana, and the Dibner Library. For instance, one of the things I’m really interested in is stenography and shorthand: I found a slew of books and manuals on phonography (the general term for sound-based shorthand systems), as well as such interesting items as the brochures and catalogs for business colleges like Bryant & Stratton in Boston, and the Troy Business College in Troy, NY. These not only give the researcher an idea of the kinds of things that were taught at such institutions, but what the classroom space looked like, and how instruction happened. As such colleges were set up to recreate for their students the experience of working in an office as closely as possible, they offer a wonderful glimpse into how offices of the late nineteenth century were organized.

I’ll be posting more on this subject as I move forward. I’m hoping to offer some samples of interesting items from the archives and libraries that give a sense of what’s available and how someone like me might use it. For now, I should probably be getting to the office myself!

From the research files: Lemon and water, 1945.

Here’s a good one I came across today: a Sunkist ad from the close of World War II that links American victory and national strength to regularity, achieved most healthfully by drinking a glass of lemon juice and water first thing each morning.

ad for sunkist citrus
Country Gentleman, vol. 115, no. 9 (September 1945), p. 96.

Here’s to your health!

The document that made me laugh today.

When I’m doing research, there are things I take photos of just because they are so striking, or singular, or strange, or funny, that they make me look twice. This often has the added benefit of becoming a wonderful surprise later on, when I am going through my materials, since stumbling on these things a second time brings me joy. The one that caused me to collapse in a heap of laughter today, amid the rather dull task of making a spreadsheet of Mississippi extension publications, was this gem:

Safe Disposal of Dead Chickens
Paul Yount, Dennis Stringer, and Kermit R. Ray, Safe Disposal of Dead Chickens, Mississippi Extension Publication 270 (1953).

I love so much about this: the fact that, despite the big operation behind him, our farmer here is essentially putting this chicken in a pot of some kind; the self-satisfied smile on his face as he does so, like he knows how “safe” he’s being; the emphasis on “safe” through typography in the title… Ah. Extension, you’ve done it again.

A digital pedagogy for the non-digital.

Via Bill this morning comes Greg Downey‘s excellent post on what he calls a “counterintuitive digital media assignment”. As he describes it:

…students are asked to turn their digital expertise and expectations upside-down: to use online search tools specifically for the purpose of figuring out what’s not available to them with the click of a mouse, and to go through the process themselves of making a portion of that non-digitized world available in the network realm for future use.

The results: Helping undergraduates to get a really concrete sense for the vast set of sources out there that are not digital, not full-text searchable, not available online. Forcing students to actually enter the library stacks, or go to the archives, and helping them appreciate the labor and knowledge of archivists and librarians who know how information is organized, and who are responsible for so much of the materials that are now available in digital form. Giving students a sense of what libraries are, once you leave the computer lab. Demonstrating the long history of creating and organizing knowledge.

Experiment Station Record.

As I am constantly discovering in the course of my research, libraries today are in the midst of massive digitization projects, and more documents are becoming available online to researchers worldwide every day. Today I discovered the full run of the Experiment Station Record from 1900 to 1949 at the University of North Texas’s digital collections. This was a great boon to me, because I recently scanned a bunch of bits and pieces of the ESR I had photocopied from research I did for my master’s several years ago, but these constituted a rather haphazard collection, with a lot of title pages copied for reference but few complete articles. So, today, when I wanted the complete May 1914 issue (rather than the one page I copied), it was surprisingly easy to conjure up on my screen. Now I can read all about the official Experiment Station take on the passage of the Smith-Lever Act, which created the USDA Extension Service.

I hope to put together soon a more comprehensive entry on agricultural historical resources available online; for now, please enjoy perusing other UNT Digital Collections. If you’re into the ag stuff, check out the Experiment Station Reports they have there as well.