Tri-University Annual History Conference Keynote

Title slide for talk

I am delighted to share that I was the keynote at the Tri-University Annual History Conference on March 9, 2019 in Guelph.  The theme for this year’s conference was “In Small and Large Things Remembered’: Material Culture and History.” Continue reading Tri-University Annual History Conference Keynote

Exploring History at the Royal Ontario Museum

ROM.  Photo Credit: It_Paris

I grew up in a rural community that is within commuting distance to Toronto.  Despite this proximity and my love for museums I never visited the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) while living there.  Last week while visiting family in the area I took the opportunity to explore the ROM for the first time. 

Overall my visit was a good but tiring day.  The ROM is huge and by the end of the day I found myself experiencing museum fatigue.  Some of the highlights of my visit were the Samuel European Galleries and the Gallery of Chinese Architecture.

European Gallery.  Credit: Tom Flemming

The Samuel European Galleries walk visitors through changes in decorative arts from the Middle Ages to the 20th Century.  The majority of the displays in this gallery are setup as rooms or vignettes featuring furniture, instruments, textile and other material culture objects.  Many of these rooms were paired with audio elements which allow visitors to listen to period appropriate music while looking at the displays.  For example the Baroque room had an audio element that played classical music from the Baroque period. 

The European Gallery also included the Arms and Armour and the Around 1914: Design in a New Age displays. The Around 1914 exhibit included an interesting mix of material from designers such as Christopher Dresser, Frank Lloyd Wright, Max Laeuger, and Louis Comfort Tiffany.  It was an interesting capstone to the European Galleries focus on material culture and design.

Chinese Tomb. Credit: FHKE

The Gallery of Chinese Architecture contains numerous architectural artifacts including roof tiles, flooring tiles,
building features, and tomb related artifacts. The Architecture gallery space is relatively small and in comparison to the Joey and Toby Tanenbaum Gallery of China which focuses on the broader history and culture of China.  However, the large buildings and tombs in the Architecture section were eye catching and a nice variation to the more frequent displays of pottery, tools, and statues.

In addition to the European Gallery and the Chinese Architecture Gallery I enjoyed the hands on elements integrated into the Gallery of Biodiversity and the Earth’s Treasures exhibit that focused on the history of mining, precious minerals, and gems.  I had no idea either of these galleries existed and was presently surprised by their quality and uniqueness. 

Family Heirlooms: From Cutlery to Adornments

Who else has a relative who collects spoons?  In many instances these relatives tend to be older, female, and the spoons tend to be hanging in a wooden/glass display case of some sort.  My mother, grandmother and a number of aunts all collected spoons at one point or another. 

Theses spoons were often purchased while away on vacation or as a gift when someone else went away.  The spoons come in all shapes and sizes, but most tend to be silver and have a delicate look about them.  They are clearly decorative and not your everyday soup spoon.

Often a spoon collector has a personal story or memory associated with each spoon.  These stories are rarely recorded and often not remembered by anyone other than the collector.  Following a death, many children have given away spoon collections that once represented pieces of family history and material culture. 

I think the lack of appeal of spoon collections to younger generations is one of the reasons why I was so interested by the idea of spoon jewelery.  This Christmas my Mother gave my sister and I spoon bracelets.  These bracelets weren’t made from her spoon collection, but I’d like to think that they were made out of special occasion cutlery that once held a place in a family’s life.

Evening Star Spoon

Each bracelet was accompanied by a card which detailed the make of the original cutlery and a short history of spoon jewellery.  My bracelet was made from a 1950s Evening Star, Oneida Silverplate spoon (pictured at right).  The Evening Star spoon is definitely not as decorative as many of those in typical spoon collections, but it does look as though it belongs to a ‘nice’ antique silverware set, that was maybe only used on special occasions.  

So why make jewelery out of spoons? Spoon jewelry isn’t a new fashion trend, but apparently dates back to the 17th century.  Early spoon jewelry is said to have been predominately rings and was made by servants who had stolen flatware from their masters. Another history claims sailors in the navy would sneak silverware away from a ship galley to make engagement rings for their girlfriends. 

Personally, I like the idea of reusing objects that once held significance to make an item that is cherished by someone else.   Jewelry made out of antique objects that are no longer valued by a family seems like a great way to provide a second life to a family heirloom.  It makes me wonder about how other family collections could be re-purposed—eg. that overwhelming set of teacups your aunt has been storing for years.

Heritage reading

December 20th’s #reverb10 prompt:

Beyond avoidance. What should you have done this year but didn’t because you were too scared, worried, unsure, busy or otherwise deterred from doing? (Bonus: Will you do it?)

In 2010 I have avoided dedicating more time to reading academic writing relevant to my field. The majority of the material I have read outside of work in 2010 was fiction. Granted, a large percentage of the fiction has been historical fiction but that really doesn’t measure up to academic reading. One deterrent to academic reading has been my lack of direction in what to read. Picking specific topics I would like to know more about would help give my reading purpose and structure.

Topics I would like to explore through reading in 2011 include:
-Material culture
-Built heritage
-Collective memory
-The interaction of First Nation heritage and public history