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2013 – My Year in Review, Part 2

January 4, 2014

This is part 2 of my look back at what I’ve accomplished over the past year, focusing more on my professional life. While part 1 focused on my life as an MLIS student, of course these 2 parts are strongly interwoven. 

Part 2 – My Professional Self

Of all my many projects this year, the one that is nearest and dearest to my heart is HistoricDress.org. I’m very lucky to be a part of an amazing team whose members share my vision for innovative digital tools that will increase the educational impact of historic clothing by allowing for specialized access to diverse digital collections of historic clothing and related materials. My car now knows the route to Smith College by heart from my frequent travels for this project: in addition to regular planning meetings, I worked with students and colleagues from 5 Colleges (a consortium of colleges in Western Massachusetts) throughout the year to continue to develop content and structure for our prototype website, and to make plans far beyond what our current prototype is able to do. a close-up view of a paisley shawl with an overlay of text for Historic Dress: The Center for the Study of Clothing, Costume, Fashion and CultureThis work included some wonderful outreach opportunities this past fall, which have left me feeling very energized with great feedback from the education, library, archive, museum, and costume history communities that will engage with the resources we have in the works. We’ve also had some great input from the team developing a related project on the other side of the world,  the Australian Dress Register. I won’t go much further to describe our project here, as I’m hoping to write a longer post soon for our project’s blog to describe the insights that have emerged from our process over the last two years.

I will just mention a related event –  I greatly enjoyed the “Narratives of Dress” symposium hosted at Smith College on November 1st and 2nd, where numerous wonderful speakers raised awareness of the ways in which articles of historic clothing are a rich resource for study, especially in terms of women’s history, whether for undergraduate students or established scholars (http://www.smith.edu/narrativesofdress/resources.php). This event involved several members of our team from HistoricDress, as it was organized by Kiki Smith and included presentations by Nancy Rexford and Marla Miller.

My work on HistoricDress also led me to attend the March conference on Women’s History in the Digital World, at the Albert M. Greenfield Digital Center for the History of Women’s Education (at Bryn Mawr), to present about that project and about my work on a 2011 digital exhibition for Vassar’s research collection of historic clothing. But hopefully you already know about that from my post last April!

Another project that is dear to my heart though not yet near enough to my heart is the DPLA (Digital Public Library of America, at dp.la). I have been following this project as much as my busy schedule will allow, which of course is not enough. However, continuing in the vein of conferences and talks, I was lucky enough to be able to attend Dan Cohen’s talk about the DPLA at NYU in April, which I believe was his first public talk about it after having been appointed Executive Director for this ambitious initiative. I was proud to be among the first to hear his stump speech about the 3 P’s of the DPLA (portal, platform, public – read more, and watch the wonderful video at http://dp.la/info/). I drafted a blog post on the train ride home from that invigorating talk, but shelved it; now I’ll be sure to try to resurrect it and add more thoughts, especially since attending the DPLAFest in Boston during October. That day of workshops brought together multitudes of us who are passionate about the potential of the DPLA – it was a day of hope and excitement and all the digital library jargon I could have dreamed of, reminding me that my decision to become a digital librarian was the right one, and that these are my people!

a yellowed image of 1954 bride MaryLee Hartzell, with overlaid text "For Better and For Worse: Sixteen Decades of Wedding Wear at Vassar"But back to my more tangible efforts this year: one of the most significant projects I worked on was our exhibition, “For Better and For Worse: Sixteen Decades of Wedding Wear at Vassar.” In January I gathered together students and colleagues who had volunteered to help plan this exhibition, and shared with them my struggle to find a “way in” to this subject. One student helped a great deal with this, pointing out that much of the relevance of discussing marriage and weddings right now is in the context of marriage equality. In addition to displaying objects we already had in our collection, we sought loans of additional objects and photographs, and conducted an oral history project, to tell a story of diverse perspectives of weddings. This stayed open in the Palmer Gallery through Vassar’s Reunion weekend, and we had wonderful feedback from the many alumnae who contributed to this project (coincidentally, it was my own 20th reunion at Vassar, but I decided to keep my curator’s voice separate from my alumna voice and didn’t include any photos of my own wedding dress, but yes, it was red). For the moment, you can see a few photographs and read a little more about this project on our collection blog, at http://pages.vassar.edu/vccc/?tag=for-better-and-for-worse, but this is just to tide you over until we are ready to launch our digital version of the exhibition. Before we struck the exhibition, we took photographs of almost all the objects on a turntable, to be able to create rotating objectVR views. In December, several students helped to process those photos, along with the audio and transcriptions of the oral history project, and we’ll be trying to wrap that up this January, so stay tuned.

an image of 5 very different wedding dresses and 2 groom's outfits

some highlights of “For Better and For Worse: Sixteen Decades of Wedding Wear at Vassar” including 5 wedding dresses from 4 generations of the same family of Vassar alumnae, and two grooms’ outfits from a same-sex wedding

Speaking of this upcoming digital exhibition, I was very pleased to find that students used our online collection (for Vassar’s research collection of historic clothing, at http://vcomeka.com/vccc) for projects in two different classes this past fall. While an average introductory face-to-face visit to the collection may be around 90 minutes at the most, this contact allows us to help students understand what to look at when examining historic clothing. Then, they have 24/7 access to visit our online database and view detailed images and information about the objects they saw in person, and many more. I always wish we had more time to devote to this digital resource, but the fact is that this work is only a small aspect of my job at Vassar, and it is rare for me to be able to steal myself, or my students, away from our costume construction projects for Drama department shows. Work with the collection typically happens at the beginning and end of the semester, when productions aren’t in full swing. So, our digital collection page layouts may not be as pretty, or our interface as intuitive, or our metadata as high quality as my ever-increasing digital librarian standards would like, but there’s still a great deal of content there that is useful to students. After a few tips and tricks from me to navigate the site, they’re off and running.

So, yes, there’s also that matter of all the shows and all the classes I worked on for my day job as Costumer for the Vassar College Drama Department. Please remember that all of the above (and in my last post) was done in addition to working 3 days a week in the Costume Shop at Vassar, supervising 15 undergraduate students to do whatever it takes to produce all the costumes for our Drama Department shows, which this past year included: Cripple of Inishman, House of Spirits, Eurydice, Rez Sisters, Little Dog Laughed, Ghosts, Way of the World, and Mouthful of Birds (a Caryl Churchill piece which I adore and which incidentally I have now worked on 3 times, all at Vassar, all in the Powerhouse, including designing costumes for it in 1993 and 1999). In the summer I also worked with Vassar’s Powerhouse Theatre Apprentice Company as I have done each summer for many years, helping the Apprentice Company to costume their own shows, which this year included Blood Wedding, Agamemnon, and As You Like It.

Did I forget anything? Oh, yes, I also launched my first commercial website, for a friend’s massage therapy business in New Hampshire, at http://moondancemassage.info/ That’s built in WordPress, using the fabulous Mantra theme, which I highly recommend, especially because I can’t believe something so customizable is also free.

Enough? All right, now that I’ve sufficiently reflected, on to 2014. If I were to make a new year’s resolution it might be to write about things in a more timely fashion, as they happen – but I don’t really believe in new year’s resolutions, do you?

(by the way, if there’s an ad below this, please don’t hold it against me – one of these days I’ll set aside some time to move to a self-hosted WordPress installation so I can be ad free)

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