Monday, January 21, 2019

Visual Thinking Strategies and 19th Century Images

They say a picture is worth 1,000 words. To be honest, I believe it can speak so much more. Take a peek at this lovely story:

For those of you who don't recall the background of this picture, take some guesses. Why is this crazy woman upset? Why is she holding a blob of paint on what we assume is canvas? Are those quilts in the background? Why is this outside?

Congratulations! You just participated in a visual thinking strategy, similar to ones found in my classroom. I'll throw a picture on the projector in my classroom and have the students simply ask questions. While the idea of asking questions about any topic or image is not new, this particular strategy hit my teacher training a few years ago. It is very successful with students, and I find it to be useful in my own research. We'll talk more about this later in the post.

Speaking of research, what does good research look like? This is something I've covered before. I've created my own guide to ensure a thorough look at history:

The Trifecta of my Research
-Photographic Images
-Textual Documentation
-Surviving Originals

Photographic imagery can be tricky. It can be very difficult to see jewelry (or much of anything) in a picture. They're often  undated, or are too blurry to see other fine details. Sometimes people wear older clothing, or pose. Photography was still a newer technology, so it's no wonder they were experimenting with appropriate (thinking of modern trends with "selfies").

Have you ever heard someone say that they have an "eye" for period images/textiles/accessories? That he/she can simply look at an object and "feel" it out, even without verification? I've scoured thousands of images over the years (thanks to Pinterest/online museum collections/Glenna Jo's stash) and I can't explain why a certain piece looks right. Sometimes I'm wrong, but if it's even questionable I start digging through my research. We cannot trust this instinct as fact (or even trust "experts" all of the time. Everyone is wrong sometimes), but it is a useful tool when narrowing down thousands of images.

Training your eyeballs
The gift of sight is a beautiful thing. Without it, we could not observe the world around us, in all its glory and details. I try to be particularly observant in my everyday life, especially in my classroom. I notice a scowling face, or rushed demeanor. I've trained my eyes to see things that are pertinent to my job. 

Eyeball training is not something you acquire after a week or two. It's a long, multi-step process that we do instinctively over time. Sometimes we look more for specific points of research (I often look at jewelry). Here are some suggestions to training your eyeballs!

1. Use a Visual Thinking Strategy

Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS) is an inquiry-based teaching strategy for all grade levels. You do not need any special art training to use this strategy. The goal of VTS is not to teach the history of a work of art but, rather, to encourage students to observe independently and to back up their comments with evidence. -Milwaukee Art Museum

Personally, I have used visual thinking strategies in my classroom. They are always fantastic lessons, but it takes some practice. If you'd like an idea of what this looks like in person, here's a quick video:

I find this practice to be INCREDIBLY useful when teaching high school students. We often miss details or try to breeze past the observation part. Dwell in the picture. Take in the surroundings, any shades or colors. Deconstruct the image, because you are going to put it back together again.

2. Question yourself

In the video, the instructor mentions three questions. They are so helpful to creating observational skills!

What's going on in this picture?
What do you see that makes you say that?
What more can we find?

Specifically for my research purposes I reword the questions. In terms of reenacting, I can tweak them to better fit our needs:

What items or articles of clothing do you see in the picture?
What makes you say that it is the item/waist treatment/jewelry?
What more can you guess about the image based on what you see?

You're probably wondering how asking questions can help you get answers. For beginners, sometimes it's overwhelming to look at everything all at once. Examining individual pieces allows for greater practice with important details. For our seasoned veterans, it's easy to have that "trained eye" miss other details. Now let's do a practice example for questions.

What type of fabric is her dress?
What did she use to trim her bodice?
What waist treatment do I see?
How did she finish her sleeves?
What color/type of earrings does it look like?
How has she done her hair?
What type of collar is this?

When we start answering these questions, we can begin asking things like:

How old is this person?
What is his/her income?
What is the relationship to the other people in the image?
Where do they live?
About when was this picture taken?

Did you notice yourself looking closer at different elements of the image? If those were questions you asked without my prompting...congratulations! You're a pro! However, this is just a very basic set of questions I've come up with. You can get even more detailed in your examination based on your needs.

3. Use primary sources to back up observations

I've written about primary sources in the past, especially why Pinterest is not Documentation. It's nearly every day I see a fellow reenactor bemoan a certain vendor or self-proclaimed "expert" who doesn't quite understand what a primary resource is. Primary sources help you better understand what you see in an image, because you can comprehend just what you're looking at.

The Teaching Library at the University of California at Berkeley notes that:

"Primary sources enable the researcher to get as close as possible to the truth of what actually happened during an historical event or time period. Primary sources are the evidence left behind by participants or observers."

Examples of primary sources include:

-Diaries, journals, speeches, interviews, letters, memos, manuscripts and other papers in which individuals describe events in which they were participants or observers
-Memoirs and autobiographies
-Records of organizations and agencies of government
-Published materials written at the time of the event
-Photographs, audio recordings, moving pictures, video recordings documenting what happened
-Original artifacts of all kinds
-Research reports in the sciences and social sciences from the time.

If you're looking for online access to primary resources, I have compiled a list of links to 19th century sources HERE. I use it all the time!

*A pinterest board is not a primary resource
*A book about the time period is not a primary resource 
   (though it can contain them)
*A link to an item on Etsy is not a primary resource
*Someone saying they saw something is not a primary resource
   (if they point you in the right direction, they are awesome!)

4. Ask for help

You know that awesome friend who pointed you in the right direction for that primary resource? Keep him/her around! That person is seriously magical and cool. I have a few mentors that have helped tremendously, and people that have aided in every step of my research process.

These mentors may already have those "trained" eyeballs. They can give you ideas, maybe send a few images your way. Their questions could spark new directions in your research. I've spent hours pouring through Glenna Jo's image collection. A good mentor will offer support whenever possible. They will offer you constructive criticism in a way that actually promotes change. If you leave a meeting/phone call/conversation with your mentor and feel good, then you found a good mentor!

Because even if you make mistakes, a good teacher knows that's part of the process. And making you feel terrible about messing up doesn't create a positive learning environment.

*If you find yourself in a toxic mentor/mentee relationship, I recommend leaving. I don't care how much a person knows; you deserve to be treated with respect. 

5. Reflect on your process

Reflection is a tough thing to do. It requires you to think about what you did right, wrong, and everything in between. You have to examine your process, find fault in yourself, and yet still find the motivation to improve. It's obnoxiously necessary.

I cringe sometimes when I think of the mistakes I've made in the past. It would be easy to get defensive, to refuse to change simply to save my own ego. Unfortunately Fortunately, as a teacher, my ego was deflated long ago when my students very decidedly pointed out my many flaws. There's nothing like a roomful of teenagers gleefully chirping about a spelling error on a handout...but it made me more aware of my own faults.

Here's a list of questions that can help you reflect when training your eyeballs:

What do I look for the most/least?
What biases do I have when looking at these images?
Which images DISPROVE what I believe?
How can I find more sources to prove my point?
If I could change one thing about my research right now, what would it be?

* The idea is to challenge yourself. Be your own best critic. But also be kind, as a good critic will know the right way to find your bias but not make you feel like crap. When I edit, I tend to treat myself to a cookie. Or a bit of fabric...

In Conclusion

As I prepare for the 2019 conference, primary documentation weighs heavily on my mind. In 2018 we made it our goal that EVERY item in our museum area had primary documentation, especially images. It was an exhausting task, one that Glenna Jo and I pushed for months. Every piece of jewelry, dress, and accessory had an accompanying image/primary source. I joke that I cried during this whole thing, but in a way I did; between reading books and staring at online resources, I never blinked!

I hope this post sparks a conversation about primary sources, visual images, and how we perceive our research process. We must keep in mind that the fruit of our research is on usually on display, whether it's live at an event or in a picture shared on the internet. We make a huge impact on how people view history, especially children.

And if I might add, The Citizen's Forum of the 1860s still has spots available! We have a large selection of workshops and fantastic seminars by amazing people. Primary sources are very important, and you will see many represented there. If you're looking for a good place to learn with very kind people, please join us! You can register here online.


Learning is a lifelong process.
There are new discoveries about the past all the time.
A progressive mindset makes for amazing living history!


Friday, January 4, 2019

Punch Paper Giveaway

Are you in the mood for a giveaway? ARE YOU?

As The Citizen's Forum of the 1860s approaches, we are busier than ever. Whether it's fine-tuning a presentation, making copies, or putting together the museum area, most of the work for a conference happens months before the first class begins. I may show a cool, collected exterior, but the inside of my mind is a map of a hundred things at once.

And thus the Conference Positivity Board was born!

But I don't want you all to think we're not thinking of you during these long winter months. So I'm doing a giveaway, something simple, to give you a chance to interact with us! 
And who doesn't like free stuff? 

In honor of the FREE workshop I will be doing on punch paper, I will be offering a few of the pieces from my reproduction collection. They're beautiful, and I've been hoarding them. They need to see the light of day! Here's what's up for grabs:

Prize #1
Screen shot 2016-02-23 at 1.38.28 PM.png

Based on an original pattern from Godey's Lady's Book, 1861, this watchpocket is made with perforated paper, glass beads, embroidery floss, and silk ribbon. It's an adorable little reproduction, that can actually hold a small watch!

Prize #2
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The July 1860 issue of Godey's Lady's Book featured this delightful little glove box made up with perforated paper and beads. The directions indicated that one could make a handkerchief box as well. This box is perfect for earbobs or small important things that need a spot. It's such a pretty teal too!

Prize #3

Full color illustrations include the history of punch paper, motifs, and patterns to reproduce. I may even sneak in a piece of punch paper for you to give one a try! I'm clever like that sometimes...

So in order to put in an entry, just follow the Rafflecopter below. It's simple and easy! It links to let us know that a person has shared an event, and picks based on those entries. Let us know if you need help filling any part out, and good luck! The giveaway ends January 16th, and I will announce the winners then.


a Rafflecopter giveaway

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

2018, A Year in Review

Since the new year is now upon us (yay!), I thought it would be good to look back at 2018 and all the wonderful things that happened. I am of course attaching pictures!

In March I visited my friend Samantha and The Genteel Arts Conference. I took a purse workshop and visited with Liz Clark, Cheyney, and others I only see on rare occasions. Even though it's a seven hour drive, it was worth every minute on the road. I'm sad to say the Genteel Arts conference won't stay in it's original form, though if you're interested in they do offer classes on the road. Click the link to see what they have available.

Also in March? The Citizen's Forum of the 1860s! That was a BUSY month! I'm proud to say the year went even smoother than the first, with good attendance and amazing learning opportunities. Plus, I added a positivity board, with sticky notes for people to leave for one another. It went so well that OF COURSE we're planning 2019...

This spring I had the chance to watch my brother play baseball. Isn't he adorable? They won a tournament. He graduated from High School in July, and earned a baseball scholarship to Olivet College. Might I add that he's getting all A's and rocking it?
 Also in the spring, I participated in a living history event celebrating Macomb County's 200th anniversary. The 21st Michigan took over The Halfway School House in Eastepointe, Michigan and gave presentations to the public. While the attendance was not large, we had an amazing time, like a group of friends at an intimate party. I'm sad to say I only did a few events this year. Between my parents buying a new house and a new pets, it was a busy year!

Greenfield Village was fun too! I set up my vendor tent and had new things to offer. Some of my newest pieces? Seed bead bracelets, based on an original pattern. Also, floor cloths and earrings. The crowds were light this year, but at least I had a chance to hang out with Mac and Bob Sullivan, my tent neighbors. And maybe I got a touch of heat poisoning. Note to self: anything above 85 degrees and I'm in the shade, tank top and shorts, chugging water and gatorade. 

Over the summer, Dom and I went on few trips. His schedule is finally starting to lighten up, so we sneaked away to Traverse City and up to Alcona for camping, boating, and visiting with friends. For those of you who have never experienced Michigan in the summer, I recommend it! 

On our trip to Alcona, I spied this little guy in the rearview mirror of our truck. There was a litter of puppies, and he looked EXACTLY like my Rambo did. It was fated! He ran right up to us and cuddled. Since August we've had him in puppy training classes, and oh is he smart. Within the next six months we hope to have him therapy dog certified, meaning that I can take him school with me or bring him to Dom's hospital. He's definitely completed our little family! Hello Ausable (Ah-sah-bow)

Also this summer, I had the chance to visit the Detroit Institute of Arts. I've been there over a dozen times over the years, usually gravitating towards 19th century art or medieval statues. I found this beadwork gem in the modern art section. It certainly inspired a few pieces that I brought to my students in the fall.

Final awesome summer news: I'm going to be an aunt! My sister Lauren will have my first nephew in March. Isn't she gorgeous?

And fall, lovely fall! I didn't do very much in the back to school hustle, except a ton of lesson plans. I redesigned part of my classroom too, so that was a bunch of extra time. Ausable passed two training classes at Petco, and skipped puppy training altogether. He's starting his certification prep class in January. In October I was a vendor at Comiquecon, a feminist comicon that supports female artists and welcomes all people to the geekdoms. My handbound books were a hit!

I volunteered for a mourning tea in October as well at The Historic Sawyer House. I helped set up tables, clean, and gave a brief presentation on mourning with a display of my original jewelry. I met a few new friends too, and it was a wonderfully somber experience that included tea and a victorian mummy unwrapping. They really know how to throw a party at The Sawyer House!

 In November I drove all the way to New York for The Domestic Skills Symposium. This was another "just Kristen" trip, and I have to say I loved every minute. I even spent time hanging out with Anna and did a bit of crafting. I took two workshops, quill making and paper quilling. Turns out my handwriting is atrocious, no matter the century!

And last but not least, one of my favorite events of the year: Christmas at the Fort. For over five years now I've met with my reenacting family in early December to play parlor games, decorate a Christmas tree, and eat in the dining room of a 19th century house during tours. The food was yummy and my heart full of laughter as we chuckled through my terrible singing (Ken's too!). I do hope we're able to continue this wonderful event!

It's hard to sum up a year. So much can change! I was lucky that 2018 didn't throw me too many curveballs; I won't mention my troubles here (dang puppy potty training...) but do know that I struggle sometimes to get through a day. It's moments like these, looking back over 365 days, that I'm happy I pushed through and made those events happen. Life's a beautiful thing, isn't it?

Hello 2019!


On My Bookshelf: December

December has been a really rough month. Between what happened in Oxford (not far from where I live...) and just the general pandemic issues,...