This afternoon was the inaugural lecture in the Messiah College History Department’s annual Alumni Lecture Series. Since our history graduates are doing such great things we thought it would be a good idea to invite them back and share some of their work with us.
Our inaugural lecturer was Janet (Kraft) Vogel, a member of the Messiah College class of 2003. After graduating, Janet earned her MA in Public History from Loyola University in Chicago and her Masters in Library Science from the University of Illinois. Currently, she serves as the Children’s Services Supervisor for the Thurmont MD Regional Library System.
Janet’s lecture was entitled “‘Cheese-Aspic Peaks’ and ‘Sunshine Salad’: Gelatin in American Life.” It’s was based on research she did as a graduate student on representations of middle-class American culture in the 1950s. In a very engaging talk, complete with slides of turn of the century advertisements she found in American ladies’ magazines, Janet took us on a tour of the relationship between gelatin and the American life. Gelatin went from being a delicacy for the upper-classes in the late nineteenth century to a popular food product for all Americans after the Knox Food Company released it in granular form around the turn of the twentieth century.
Janet was particularly interested in the way that gelatin become synonymous with the white middle class in the 1950s. After the World War Two, gelatin was colorized in an attempt to bring some brightness to kitchen tables everywhere in the wake of the Great Depression. By the 1960s, the popularity of gelatin waned in America as more and more people began cooking with fresh foods (in explaining this shift Janet points to the popularity of Julia Child), but it seems to be making a comeback today thanks to people like Martha Stewart.
The Q&A session following the presentation was lively. Everyone seemed to have a jello story that they wanted to share with Janet. One student asked about jello-molds as collectibles. Another told a story about how her grandmother inadvertently dropped a jello mold down the sink during the Great Depression. I wondered what Janet’s advisor at Loyola thought when she first told him that she wanted to write a paper about jello. (Answer: he wasn’t too excited about it and thought Janet would never be able to pull it off). One student asked Janet to speculate on the “future of Jello in America.”
It is always good to see former students return to campus and talk about the things that they are passionate about. Janet is looking to get her work published in article form soon.