New Media and Material Culture

Posted by Catherine Whalen, April 29, 2014:

The following are two digital projects I've been working on with BGC students and our Digital Media Lab, especially Kimon Keramidas. The first, the Bard Graduate Center Craft, Art and Design Oral History Project, went live fall 2013, and will continue to expand. The second, "Interpreting the American Colonial Revival: Making the Invisible Visible," is a collaborative student project for a course on the Colonial Revival that I taught in fall 2013.


Bard Graduate Center Craft, Art and Design Oral History Project

About the Project:

The Bard Graduate Center Craft, Art and Design Oral History Project is an online archive of oral history interviews of contemporary craftspeople, artists and designers. The primary form of these interviews are transcripts, illustrated with photographs of the interviewees and their work; some also feature audio and video clips. These makers come from many fields: studio craft in wood, ceramics, fiber, metal, glass, and mixed media; architectural, industrial, graphic, fashion, and costume design; and sculpture and installation art. Topics discussed include background and education, aesthetics, goals, career choices, and the marketplace. Interviews range in focus and length; some concentrate on specific projects, while others recount life histories.

The project responds to the growing interest in craft and design history, in which oral histories have been a key resource for a growing body of scholarship. The goals of the project are twofold. One is to document, preserve and make available the voices of contemporary makers for the purpose of research. By including creators in multiple fields, the archive provides the opportunity to consider the distinctions, continuities, and fluidity among their practices and their work. The project's second aim is to share strategies for developing primary sources on contemporary craft, art and design via the practice of oral history.

The interviews have been conducted by graduate students in the seminar “Craft and Design in the USA, 1940–Present,” taught by Assistant Professor Catherine Whalen, who also directs the project. Bard Graduate Center students have been building this archive since 2007 and are continuing to do so.


Interpreting the American Colonial Revival: Making the Invisible Visible

A digital project by Alizzandra Baldenebro, Corinne Brandt, Maeve Hogan, Erica Lome, and Emma Scully for the seminar "The Colonial Revival" taught by Catherine Whalen at the Bard Graduate Center, Fall 2013. Produced by Kimon Keramidas and Andrew Gardner, BGC Digital Media Lab.

About the Project:

The American Colonial Revival is a longstanding manifestation of object-based U.S. cultural nationalism. This complex cultural phenomenon, succinctly described as “national retrospection,” began soon after the founding of the United States and has persisted ever since. Ostensibly peaking between 1880 and 1940, the revival takes many forms, encompassing decorative arts, architecture, landscape design, painting, sculpture, graphic arts, literature, photography, and film. Key practices include forming collections, staging commemorations, and preserving historic sites. Situated within the oft-cited historical context of industrialization, urbanization, and immigration, the Colonial Revival intersects discourses of regionalism, romantic nationalism, nativism, progressivism, modernism, and antimodernism. Further points of consideration include the relationship to the Arts and Crafts movement and comparable revivals in the Americas and Europe.

In the United States, artifacts that reference early America are so ubiquitous that they are taken for granted, often going unnoticed. The goal of this project is to make this ‘invisible’ material culture visible through case studies of five objects, purposely varied in date and form. They are ordered from the most recent to the most historically distant, working back from the present day to the earliest encounters among Native Americans and Europeans. The given dates pertain to when these things became ‘colonialized’, which are not always the dates of their making. They range from a c. 2013 reproduction textile sold as a napkin at Virginia’s Colonial Williamsburg; the Palladian doorway of the Hammond-Harwood House in Annapolis, Maryland, which was built 1774-77 and became a historic house museum in 1940; a c. 1898 Tiffany silver tea and coffee service; Washington Irving’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” a work of gothic fiction from 1820; and the indigenous plant ‘Indian corn’, so dubbed by an Englishman in 1604.

To use the site, scroll down through the case studies, or use the top bar menu to jump to a particular object. On the far right is a pull-down menu of shared interpretive themes: the power of evocation, the articulation of temporality, dynamics of cultural and economic value, the politics of making, gender and material culture, and belonging. The up-and-down arrows jump to the sections of each case study that pertain to that theme.

Emancipation Project

J. Ritchie Garrison, University of Delaware

History of Product Packaging, Hagley Museum and Library online exhibition

Katherine Grier, University of Delaware


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