April 24 2013

What does a celery tray, such as the one pictured at left, tell us? Why was there a need in 1939 for such an object—why does celery require its own dish? What does it tell us about how food was presented? What questions, if any, does such an object raise about the production of celery at the time? These are questions a scholar might consider when researching an object such as the celery tray designed by Russel Wright.

A discussion of the celery tray, led by FIU assistant professor of history Elizabeth Heath, was part of The Wolfsonian–FIU Graduate Student Workshop on Visual and Material Culture, a day-long workshop at the museum held on March 23. Eighteen FIU graduate students from several disciplines were introduced to methods of conducting research and to The Wolfsonian’s collections through presentations by professors and Wolfsonian staff members. Students also toured the galleries and participated in an architectural exercise.

“It was a very good mix of graduate students and a very successful workshop. Before the workshop, many students were unaware of the breadth of The Wolfsonian’s resources, and now several are planning to come back to conduct research,” says Peter Clericuzio, The Wolfsonian’s academic programs manager, who organized the event along with Jon Mogul, assistant director for research and academic initiatives.

The workshop began with a presentation by guest speaker Mona Domosh, professor of geography at Dartmouth College. Domosh, whose books include American Commodities in an Age of Empire, discussed how she has used items and objects in non-traditional ways in her research—for example, going beyond the text in period magazines and journals to look at the covers, images, and advertisements.

Her talk was followed by detailed object analyses by Elizabeth Heath and Winifred E. Newman, associate professor of architecture at FIU, who each chose one object and through it demonstrated how one might investigate visual and material culture. Clericuzio provided an in-depth explanation of ways to utilize the museum’s collection for research. The workshop included an introduction to the rare books and special collections library during which chief librarian Francis Luca described the range of library holdings and ways of conducting research. Students were also assigned an exercise—they were sent to selected sites in the art deco district with questions to guide them in analysis.

“After the workshop, the students should be able to jump into researching the collection right away,” says Clericuzio. This was the first time The Wolfsonian has offered an in-depth workshop on archival research to FIU students; it will be an annual event in the future, held at the beginning of the fall semester. The workshop was funded by a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Anyone interested in learning more about conducting research at The Wolfsonian should contact peter@thewolf.fiu.edu [1] or 305.535.2627.

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