Feb 26

Integrating the tactile with the digital

Here’s my question, or topic, folks–and it’s quite speculative: How can I use technology to supplement my work in material culture–both with respect to research as well as pedagogy? In particular, I’m interested in textile and garment production in early America, but the relationship between the body and the object is really difficult to reconcile with digital interfaces. Of course, textiles aren’t the only such difficult object to translate onto the screen. Recent work on gastronomy and food ways, for example, presents a different, but similarly perplexing relationship between digital technology and historical inquiry.

Regarding research, I wonder if the database is the primary utility of digital technology. I’ve been tracking the development of the Cooper-Hewitt’s online collections of American design, since they have such a rich archive of textile arts–embroidery, garments, swatches. But relatively few images of these early artifacts are digitized. I’m interested in how this intermediary stage of the database creation forces researchers to forego the visual experience of these objects: Can we take advantage of this digital blindness to recreate some features of embodied experience, the experience that their wearers and producers might have more intimately had?

Regarding pedagogy, what uses of digital technology can we use to supplement teaching of material culture? I like to spend time with students introducing them to material culture by asking them to think about and discuss their own experience of clothing: Why, for example, might they choose to wear a certain garment rather than another–comfort? performance? utility? But how might we translate such observations on the continued salience of objects into/onto the two-dimensional experience of the screen?

I’d love to share skills sets and familiarity with dynamic platforms. In preparation for a discussion, I want to ask the following questions:

  1. What technology–hardware, software, etc.–makes you most aware of your physical engagement with the digital interface? with your environment at large?
  2. What has been the most challenging database you’ve encountered in your research? Did it generate any solutions or fruitful reevaluations of your archive?
  3. What is the oldest, least up-to-date piece of digital technology you use? What features do you value?

Thanks! Looking forward,



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