I’m lucky enough to be a part of a field where my work is constantly evolving, giving me the chance to always explore something new. Here are some of the rabbit holes I’m diving down at the moment:
Community outreach: I collaborate with multiple Atlanta-area organizations, including low-income housing for seniors, and college classes at a GA state prison. My goal is to bring special collections to communities often overlooked by and excluded from accessing them, in order to make sure everyone has access to our collective history and the opportunity to have the transformative and empowering experience of engaging with those materials in person. My approach to all community work is collaborative rather than prescriptive–I go in with some basic overview information and some materials, but focus my efforts on listening to community feedback and co-designing programs that speak to their needs and interests.
Bentley Rare Book Museum: The Bentley Rare Book Gallery has been around for 30 years, but one of my big tasks when I came on board was to reinvision it as a museum. We turned it from an appointment-only space without rotating exhibits into a walk-in interactive museum with rotating exhibitions and robust programming. We were unable to locate existing models for this transition, so created our own. We focus on exhibits that include modern facsimiles (e.g. of medieval manuscripts) and other interactive components alongside cases of original materials, which enhances collection visibility and offers a variety of access points for different learning styles and interests.
Hospitality Industry Outreach: I am building the only cohesive culinary history special collection at a Southeastern university, and have used this growing collection to support a robust outreach program with restaurants, bars, and other hospitality industry venues. Using food and beverage as an access point gives us the opportunity to reach new audiences and experiment with programming that discusses food and book history, and can be easily tailored to different events and cuisines.
Instructional Sessions: I have been very successful in generating interest through targeted outreach to faculty on both KSU campuses to increase visibility and to tailor programming to their instructional needs. I also worked with our Outreach Archivist to develop a joint Research with Primary Sources instructional session, which uses rare books and archival materials to teach basic research skills in freshman seminars. This reinvisioned session has been very popular, and has increased our instruction session requests by 100%. It has also raised campus awareness of our holdings, which has increased their use in student and faculty research.
Currently, I have two exhibits up in the Bentley Museum and the satellite Athenaeum Gallery. Both are very different, but I think the range of audiences and themes they encompass speak to the flexibility of my curatorial approach.
Culinary Memory: This exhibit is focused on scholarly and industry audiences, but is still accessible to the general public. It uses Brillat-Savarin’s The Physiology of Taste: Or Meditations on Transcendental Gastronomy (1825) as a starting point from which to explore the history of the cookbook. Brillat-Savarin’s work is a natural place to begin, since it’s widely regarded as the first book solely dedicated to the philosophy of food. His background as a lawyer, not as a chef, provides an interesting lens through which to understand food, as he writes from the perspective of an outsider (e.g. not working within the hospitality industry) and an insider (i.e. someone with a passion for, and considerable experience with, his subject matter).
This exhibit also draws from Salvador Dali’s Diners de Gala cookbook (1971), which uses a very different approach to discuss the pleasures of the table. By organizing both under the themes found in The Physiology of Taste, this exhibit walks visitors through the history of food writing and its relationship to our changing cultural understanding of food and cooking.
Culinary Memory does not attempt to cover each meditation in depth or offer an exhaustive list of every book related to a given theme, but instead synthesizes the meditations by situating this brilliant and seminal work at the crossroads between food history and book history.
Getting Medieval: How to Make a Manuscript: This interactive exhibit is geared towards general audiences, and guides visitors through the manuscript making process. It explains the processes for preparing writing surfaces and inks, and gives visitors the opportunity to interact with facsimile manuscripts and items related to manuscript production, while viewing examples of real medieval manuscripts. Other issues, such as different historic letterforms, are touched on in the labels next to each of the original manuscripts. The exhibit consists largely of artifacts and interactive objects, with several panels giving a brief overview of the manuscript making process.
Research and Writing
My research broadly focuses on how we engage with change either as individuals or within our institutions, and this focus encompasses several main research areas. My training is in Library & Information Studies, which lends itself well to interdisciplinary work. Currently this includes the following projects:
One of my greatest emphases as a researcher and an instructor is the melding of theory and practice. While the past year has focused on teaching and practice, I’m beginning to revisit my research agenda and shape its future direction. I plan to apply my research and practical backgrounds to the study of cultural heritage, applying theory to understand how users engage with cultural heritage spaces, who is being represented in those spaces and who is overlooked, and how we can be more impactful in our communities. I plan to supplement theoretical research with practice-focused work and with my continued dedication to fostering students’ understanding of the intersection of these two worlds.
I have co-authored two papers this year on meeting the information needs of sexual assault survivors. Given my practical expertise in working with underserved populations, I plan to conduct future research that focuses on underserved populations and special collections, in terms of barriers to access, perceptions of special collections, and effective programming/other approaches to improve service.
At the moment, I’m focusing on my second food studies book, which looks at the history of afternoon tea. My hope is that it won’t just tell people what the meal is, but to get them to think critically about meals as a cultural object: How and where afternoon tea is consumed today, for example, is largely dependent on the history of English colonialism and on the relationships between specific colonies and with England.
I have also focused on wrapping up research projects or on bringing closure to specific steps within larger research streams. I recently published my findings from the Change in Historic Institutions research that I completed for my dissertation in Library Quarterly.
My exhibit catalog from Culinary Memory is also a good example of my recent writing. I love exploring the history of a subject (especially food), so this was a lot of fun to put together.
I am also the new Editor of the Fine Press Book Association’s Parenthesis, and plan to expand the journal somewhat to focus on the intersections between theory and practice and to include conversations about preserving bookmaking equipment and materials.
My artistic practice has been very successful this year, with regular group shows and increasing gallery and public interest in my work. I am currently working on projects that explore the concepts of identity, home, spirituality, and belonging. You can read more about my artwork and see a few examples of my work here. I also regularly post updates on my home page about current and upcoming shows.