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, refugee resettlement organizations, and other community outreach and improvement organizations. I also am involved in education efforts at a local prison. My goal is to bring rare books to communities often overlooked by and excluded from accessing them, in order to make sure everyone has access to our collective history documented in rare materials, while also designing programs and educational activities to help people see themselves as active participants in that history.
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 (to our knowledge) at a Southeastern university, and have used this in a robust outreach program with restaurants, bars, and other hospitality industry venues (e.g. festivals). 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.
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 curatorial approaches they encompass speak to the flexibility of rare books as a focal point for exhibition and education.
Culinary Memory: This exhibit 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 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.
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.
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’ve also been dipping my toe back in to the world of nonfiction and fiction writing, although I have yet to release it into the world.
I’m also a reviewer at various journals.
Lately, my focus has been 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 colleague Melissa Gross and I also just published our article on the information needs of sexual assault survivors in College and Research Libraries.
For the time being, a chunk of my research focus will be on the afternoon tea book I described above, although as I have shifted away from some of my old research streams (e.g. qualitative social media analysis), I am enjoying spending the time to daydream about where I want my research to go next.
I recently completed and exhibited my series comprised of artist’s responses to essays in The Book History Reader, one of the formative books in my development as a thinker and professional.
Currently, I am working on an artist’s response that synthesizes two pieces in the Bentley Museum’s permanent collection: Our Lunar Bible, a fragment of a microform Bible housed in a faberge egg, and Dean’s Book of Dissolving Pictures, a children’s book with images that change as you pull a tab.
I am also in the beginning stages of a project to explore southern foodways by creating art that uses only southern food ingredients (e.g. parchment and inks made from southern food sources).