“We shall deal here with humble things, things not usually granted earnest consideration, or at least not valued for their historical import. …The sun is mirrored even in a coffee spoon.”
I have long had an interest in the “stuff” of human life. Early in my career I worked in curatorial roles in history museums, using artifacts to engage communities with their local histories. After receiving my PhD in American Studies at Yale University, working on the role of material culture in building national communities of American consumers in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, I moved to Scotland to take up a post in History and American Studies at the University of Glasgow, giving me new perspectives on my research. At Glasgow I taught across various period and subfields of American history, as well as teaching material culture and public humanities to graduate students, and advising a cohort of wonderful doctoral students across a range of topics in political and cultural history, and especially material culture, including the history of textiles. I also carried out a varied administrative portfolio, with responsibilities for teaching, research, and graduate student professional development at both department and college level.
In joining the Design Studies Department in the School of Human Ecology, I am excited to work with my new colleagues to again see my historical research in new ways, this time from the perspective of makers and theorists in design and material culture, and I am thrilled to have the Helen Louise Allen Textile Collection on my doorstep. Textiles are, on the one hand, intimate, and personal—we wear them on our bodies, we sleep under them, we use them to make our homes more private—and on the other hand, so resonant of larger communities, systems of cultural tradition, trade, and other forms of exchange, of both economic and emotional value. To me, that connection, between the very personal scale of human experience and the way we connect to others, is at the heart of the intellectual inquiry of this School.