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Material Culture


Susquehanna State Park

We went on a little camping trip, with the intention of chasing some ice cream. I didn't know this before, but the park contains a historic site within it including an 1804 house, grist mill, canal and other structures. I didn't take any pictures, but I can recommend that you visit the site if you are in the area. The structures are well-preserved and the grist mill is fully open (though not operational). You can climb all the way to the top floor! 

We were able to join up with a group for the house tour, which meant that we jumped in right as the docent was getting to the slavery portion of the tour. I was glad to hear him speak at length on the experiences of slaves at that farm and in the household. Visitors were even allowed to climb the very steep steps to the attic where the slaves slept. As for the family who owned and operated the house and farm, they had an interesting story related to their son's decision to fight for the Confederacy during the Civil War. 

We also spent time walking along the canal paths, and the role of the Susquehanna in 18th/19th century Baltimore commerce was on my mind the entire day. Just last week, I was looking over some accounts from a 19th century Baltimore merchant, Frederick Hammer. In 1812, this man invested over $10,000 in turnpikes alone. These roads connected Baltimore to places like York and Frederick, but his financial support went to other projects that connected York and Conowego (Conowingo - where the hydroelectic dam now exists). Hammer also invested in canals, banks and insurance companies.

Walking the paths and visiting the structures that are left from this period renews my intellectual interest in their conception and use. I'm very grateful for the opportunity to spend a day seeing and experiencing these sites. So, thanks, Maryland Department of Natural Resources!

P.S. I chose "Mint Mookie" as my ice cream flavor. It was delicious. 



The Walters - Special Exhibit

Weston and I took advantage of his extra day off work post-Sandy* to visit The Walters Art Museum's latest special exhibit: Revealing the African Presence in Renaissance Europe.  I was particularly interested in seeing the paintings and other works of art in person because I'm planning to use the exhibit website in the first week of my class on African American History to 1877 next semester.  

And I must admit, it was one of the rare cases where I actually read every label while walking through the exhibit.  I really appreciated the way the curators distinguished between generic or impersonal representations of Africans and "individualized" (or based off a real person's countenance) representations.  I don't read a lot of art history, in the strictest sense, so maybe this isn't that new to others.  I thought it was a good way to talk about stereotype without using that term (and all its more recent baggage).  

At the end, visitors were invited to post a sticky note that described their identity in a few words.  People tended to group them by theme, which was interesting because I didn't notice any signage prompting that sort of behavior.  There was apparently a competition for who could stick the highest note (it was very high...well above 10 ft I'd guess).  There was also a funny/sad one that said something close to "Historian - smart, funny, but broke."  I could definitely relate! 

*We made it through Sandy with minimal problems.  No loss of electricity or even internet.  2 minor ceiling leaks were the only damage to our apartment.