After submitting my previous blog entry, I realized that I should have started out by answering everyone’s burning question: “So what exactly are you doing up there?” During my time in the Historic Deerfield Summer Fellowship Program, I will help to construct an exhibit, guide in-house museums, write a research paper, and visit other museums along the eastern seaboard.
So what exactly am I studying? I am learning about the objects that people from the past used and the architecture of their buildings in order to better understand their daily lives. This involves considering the production, consumption, use, and meaning of various items.
For example, we recently discussed 17th and 18th-century ceramics. I can now identify earthenware, stoneware, and porcelain, explain the differences in their production, and discuss the social and cultural implications of each type of ceramic. If people living in Deerfield had imported Chinese porcelain, that signified their refinement and gentility because most people could not afford porcelain and had to settle for other types of ceramic.
As part of our study of material culture, the fellows will be creating an exhibit about the Old Indian House, a building that survived the 1704 French and Mohawk raid (see my previous post for details). After the building was torn down in the mid- 19th century, its wood was made into various commemorative items. I will be studying these canes, gavels, and other objects to understand their meaning in hopes of better grasping the significance of the building.
After we gain a solid foundation in material culture, we will begin the next portion of the program: guiding. I am eagerly looking forward to this, not only because I will get to study a house and its objects more deeply, but because I will be able to interface more directly with the public. I cannot wait to pass along my passion for the past to Historic Deerfield visitors. I hope that I can teach them a little bit about history and historical thinking in general.
The third component of this program is an extensive research paper about the history of the town. Having been inspired by the way Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s used the diary of Martha Ballard to provide insight into her life, I hope to do the same for a person who lived in Deerfield. After spending some time rummaging around the archive’s collection of diaries and journals, I settled upon the memoirs and diary of a 19th century Deerfield minister named Robert Crawford. I realize that I am no Laurel Thatcher Ulrich and that I only have a few weeks to research, but I am excited to delve into Crawford’s writings and try to understand his life.
To help us understand how museums work, we will visit other nearby museums and learn how they handle their collections and interact with the public. Last week, we visited the museum of the Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association (Historic Deerfield’s sister institution). It provided a wonderful introduction to Deerfield and had three floors full of intriguing artifacts from the town’s history. As a musician, my favorite part of the museum was a room full of 17th and 18th century harpsichords and pianos. I had what could only be described as nerd moment when I stood next to a harpsichord made by Clementi and teared up in awe. I have never been so tempted to ignore a “Please do not touch” sign in my life!
As I learn more about material culture and museums, I will continue to write over the course of the summer. If you find yourself near Historic Deerfield in the next few weeks, let me know and I would be glad to give you a personalized tour!