ActiveHistory.ca is on a two-week hiatus, but we’ll be back with new content in September. During the hiatus, we’re featuring some of our most popular and favourite posts from the past year. Thanks as always to our writers and readers.
This post and corresponding exhibit were originally featured on November 20, 2015 during the Tehcnoscience in Canada theme week.
By Beth A. Robertson and Dorotea Gucciardo
What do a glass memory tube, an electric range, a botanical painting, a player piano and two different aircrafts have in common? This first Active History exhibit dedicated to Science, Technology and Gender will provide a few answers to that question that may surprise you.
This introductory post marks the launch of a new section of the ActiveHistory.ca website entitled “Exhibits”. The purpose of the new section is to extend the partnerships between ActiveHistory.ca and other forms of “active history” primarily through collaborating with museums and archives across the country. Each online exhibit, powered through Omeka, will be organized around a theme. The exhibits will showcase a select number of objects, documents, and images from a single collection that you may or may not have heard of. Academics, public historians as well as museum professionals and archivists will be asked to place each object in context as it relates to the overarching theme.
Situating an object within its historical context can be a formidable task, especially in the absence of printed materials, which can lend insight into the object’s uses or socially constructed values. Without context, the object becomes a “thing” — something indefinable. So how do we go beyond the “thingness” of something to identify and analyze the object? For that, we can turn to authors like E. McClung Fleming or Jules Prown, who define material culture — that is, the objects created by a particular society — and suggest methodologies for identifying an object and determining its social meanings. The most important task is to accept the artifact as an expression of culture, and to engage with it using all of our senses to unravel the values, assumptions, beliefs, either conscious or unconscious, encoded in it by the society that created it.
To that end, the contributors of this first theme of science, technology and gender, will explore artifacts with the specific goal of determining how those objects can be expressions of gender — either as being gendered themselves or telling us something about the expectations of those who used them.
Click here to read more. Or head straight to the Science, Technology and Gender exhibit to explore alternative histories and politics through material culture objects.