Students research stories behind museum items in capstone English class
Monday, January 12, 2015
A student exhibit opening Jan. 21 in the Kemper Art Gallery at the K-State Student Union explores the cultural significance of everyday items used by ordinary people. The items were selected from regional archives, including the university's Historic Costume and Textile Museum.
"Things That Speak" will run through Feb. 6. The free exhibit is based on a project by students in American Everyday, a capstone English course taught by Steffi Dippold, assistant professor of English.
Dippold believes that written histories don't tell the whole story, often leaving out important people. Her course focuses on ordinary people, everyday objects, and the trials and tribulations of marginalized groups. Students investigate quotidian objects as narratives and question the assumption that only print culture can function as a historic record that stores important stories.
"By looking at everyday objects produced by ordinary people who did not have access to print culture and are usually erased from traditionally taught and celebrated literatures and documents, students explore nontextual literacies that give voice to those ordinary Americans," Dippold said.
"I deeply believe in the pedagogic value of working with both local objects and material culture," she said. "I wanted to offer my students a course that would train them in object-based interdisciplinary research using a range of methodological approaches."
The many historical archives in Kansas sparked the assignment that created the upcoming exhibit. Students were required to select an everyday object found in an archive and then trace its local and cultural life, as each was once the subject of fascination, association and meaning, Dippold said.
Objects for the exhibit were selected from the Historic Costume and Textile Museum, which is in the apparel, textiles, and interior design department in the College of Human Ecology, the Riley County Historical Society, the Kansas Historic Archive in Topeka and the National Archives, Kansas City, Missouri.
Items on display from the Historic Costume and Textile Museum, according to senior curator Marla Day, are a mourning cummerbund, a plum colored Quaker dress, a volume from an early women's journal called the Lady's Monthly Museum, published between 1798 and 1832, a banyan (a male housecoat), an 1810 muslin empire dress, Whig's defeat quilt and reading glasses.