Object Biography: YETI Insulated Tumbler

An object deserving of additional study that is part of my daily life is my insulated YETI brand tumbler. The outside surface is a lightly textured seafoam green color and the entire inside is smooth, stainless steel. The cup is used almost exclusively with a clear plastic lid of the same brand. It can hold twenty ounces of liquid and weighs approximately three pounds. The cup is around eight inches tall and three inches in diameter. Notably, it is heavily insulated and vacuum-sealed. It is double-walled stainless steel, which supports its utilitarian value. It is used for both hot and cold beverages and keeps them at the desired temperature for an inordinate amount of time. The manufacturer’s logo is prominently displayed twice on the bottom sides of the cup and again on the base of the cup, as well as on the lid.

The cup was designed by the YETI Company in Texas, but manufactured in China. Since it is a cup, I mostly use it for drinking liquid, but occasionally will eat cereal out of it in lieu of a bowl. It also has the potential to hold items such as pens and other similarly shaped objects. Cups or tumblers such as this are not rare. Cups of this brand and similar cups of different brands are ubiquitous, especially on a university campus. The YETI Company began manufacturing tumblers such as this in 2014, and I was given my tumbler as a birthday gift in May of this year.

This object has clear utilitarian value. Its insulation allows me to drink iced coffee on the hottest of days without worrying that my coffee will become warm, or that the ice will melt. I also use it to drink water, which remains insulated and cool to drink. Another aspect of its utilitarian value is its reusability. This is important because I believe in reducing the amount of waste that I create by using reusable objects such as this tumbler. The reusability of this cup also indicates that it has social and cultural value to people who share the same desire for sustainability. It has sentimental value as well because I received it as a gift from someone I love. The object has cultural value because the YETI brand is popular among college students and in college towns. It is also seafoam green, which is also a popular color among people in my age demographic.

I use this cup every day to drink both water and coffee, and I carry it with me to campus often. When I am not carrying it with me, it resides either in the kitchen near the refrigerated water filter or on my bedside table. In a century, any historian can use my tumbler to infer that I drank beverages pretty regularly, and that insulation was an important factor in my choosing a cup for daily use. They could also infer that this particular cup was chosen for its brand name and color, as both are popular within campus culture.

Featuring my hand

Seafoam green and stainless steel double walled insulated tumbler

Object Biography 1840’s Pink Silk Dress

This 1840’s pink silk dress is from AU Theatre’s vintage stock.  the dress was bequeathed by former chair and costume design professor, Lois Garen from her personal antique clothing collection when she passed away in 1980.  The AU Theatre’s antique clothing is stored separately from the costume storage and is used for teaching examples for my Costume History and Costume Construction classes. The dress has water damage from the roof drainage flooding experienced when giant storms have hit the building.

The dress is hand stitched; the sewing machine had not been invented.  The gown equivalent to a modern size 2, the waist is 221/2″ , bust 31″, skirt length 43″ for a woman approximately 5’8″ tall. The gown would be worn over a corset and the skirt held out by as many as 6 petticoats, to achieve a soft, bell shape.  A chemise, worn directly on the body would protect the inner gown from body perspiration and oils. The dress is made of light pink changeable silk.  A design of blue roses is woven into the pattern.  The roses change colors tones  of blue, depending on the lighting.

The dress is lined with finely woven linen in the bodice, no lining in the skirt. An 8″ hem of blue polished cotton gives the hem protection from the elements. The same polished cotton is used for a hidden pocket in the right hand fold of the dress. The pleating of the skirt is cartridge pleating to the waist edge of the bodice.  This is formed by folding the waist edge of the material back, arranging it in close cartridge pleats (like the pleats on the sleeves of graduation robes) and sewing the top fold of each pleat to the bodice waistline.  The narrow piping hides the join of the skirt to the bodice.  The dress has the same piping in the shoulder seam for shape and durability.  The dress is trimmed at the neck, sleeve cap and bottom of sleeve bell with a pink scalloped manufactured trim.  The dress has 1/4″ steel boning in the seams.

The stitch used to construct the dress is a running stitch in pink silk in the skirt seams; the skirt is cut in lengths to allow the selvedge to be the finished edge.  There is a center back placket of self-silk for the gown’s closure.  The gown in closed by 16 manufactured hooks and eyes hidden in the placket. The bodice shape is obtained with bust pads, which hold out the upper part of the bodice, and achieve the sloped shoulder look.  The inner finishing of the bodice seams is in black cotton thread.  The gown does not show signs of alteration, which is of significance in antique garments.  The fabric is expensive and could have been made into another dress, or made for another wearer, but it is intact. The polished cotton in the hem still retains its sheen, so it has been laundered only a few times, if at all.

Why was the gown saved? It shows very little wear. There is water staining up the dress hem, as if the gown was worn through a deep puddle; however the silk is not dirty from wear.  Perhaps the gown was made for a special occasion and then saved, not given away, worn or remodeled.

As a costume design professor I rely on history to teach the construction of garments and base the design of costumes for productions on historic clothing silhouette. The beautiful draping of this gown is not available in books; there is very little information on garment construction of this period.  On a daily basis I teach students about garments, their history, and their significance.  The social culture of the world of this garment is gone, but the dress survives for students to see the intricate hand stitching someone labored hours to make.  the world of the theatre production is ephemeral, our productions last but a couple weeks.  This garment is here for us to study 170 years later, and practice some of the draping and sewing lessons the dress tells us.

1840’s day dress

Close up bodice

Inner bodice, detail side seam stitching bone attachment

Inside bodice, padding detail,, pleat stitching

Inside hidden pocket

Skirt cartridge pleating

Visiting with Auburn’s Seniors

While my particular visit to the senior’s center differed from everyone else’s, I did learn a great deal about the two women whom my partner and I interviewed. Steven led the discussion, while I interjected every now and then to ask more pointed questions for clarification on some of the matters that we our seniors discussed. We were lucky, and had two intelligent, hardworking women who were willing to share their life’s experiences with us. We learned about cooking and cleaning, quilting, their forms of childcare, and about their upbringing. I was particularly drawn to our interviewees, one of whom had had a similar upbringing to myself. She came from an agricultural family that grew tobacco, and spent her summers with her grandparents, helping out in the fields, learning how to sew. Our other senior shared my passion for family and cooking, and she quilted as well. In the time I spent with those two ladies I found myself listening to many aspects of a “bygone era”, but still able to find instances where their past and mine overlapped. They had wonderful stories and opinions about the topics that we discussed, and their charisma made our interview process less awkward. I am honored to have met them, and I look forward to working with the information we gained from the interview in the upcoming project, and I definitely classify the visit to the Senior’s center a success, even if I did drive circles around it for the first hour or so…

Alternate final exam

In lieu of a final exam for this class, you can opt to lead class discussion for a day. You can find more details about this (potential) assignment here. It’s also linked in our syllabus. If you’re interested in leading class discussion, you can sign up for a subject, day, as well as a consulting meeting with me through the linked assignment. First come, first served. You are also welcome to take a final exam during our regularly scheduled exam period.

Senior Citizens, Oral History, and Ethics

Reflecting on the oral history ethics readings both before and then after visiting the senior citizen center did the gravity of the implications of a maliciously used oral history became evident to me. Just from the 7 to 10 senior citizens that came to the center that from my direct contact, serval had either vision, movement, or literacy difficulties. These characteristics became quite evident while trying to review the release forms, having to go over several small (a sentence or two) sections repeatedly. A malicious or unethical interviewer could with ease take advantage of an illiterate subject. An illiterate interviewee would have to take what the interviewer says at face value, being unable to discern what the release form actually allows. The incredibly intricate ethical landscape has given form to the Institutional Review Board (IRB), while even though the process can be cumbersome, most if not all projects should go through its processes. The IRB is meant to protect the subject, the interviewer, and the institution/or project from unethical practices. While I do think it is inherently impossible for any person to be truly objective because of the human aspect that is more often than not present in interviews. An interviewee’s or interviewer’s voice, sex, clothing, personality, or a countless number of other characteristics may trigger a person’s unconscious bias, swaying them to ask or act in different ways. While a project in its overarching objectives might change after different stages of a project, it is the responsibility of the interviewer to effectively communicate why and in what ways their voice/stories will be used. Because of prolonged time together an interviewer and an interviewee might become comfortable in their relationship. This, however, brings danger and other questions to light. Does an interviewee communicate something in confidence to their friend the interviewer, is it needed to be explicitly stated? Does an interviewee consciously alter their narration in order to continue the appearance to the interviewer? While these questions might, and probably will continue to be evident, they are important topics to explore and be wary of with every subject.

The Responsibility of a Conversation

Every person has memories and stories from their lives. Sometimes it can be difficult to get people to share their stories and memories in a formal interview while being recorded and signing a release form. Beyond the level of comfort that is required for most people to open up and share pieces of their past, is the trust that must be created between the two individuals to have a successful interview. Medical and psychological researchers have developed codes of ethic when it comes to working with individuals. Guidelines and standards have even been published by the Oral History Association “to uphold certain principles, professional and technical standards, and obligations.”

In visiting the senior center at the Auburn Housing Authority recently, the implications of what it means to be responsible to an interviewee was made clearer to me by gaining first-hand experience in conducting oral history interviews with several residents. A certain amount of trust and familiarity had to be built before many residents would begin speaking in a less reserved way. But just the same as any conversation with a stranger, even if the audio records and signed forms had not been present, the interviewee started to move beyond simply answering questions and started to share more in the conversation as I began to respond and actively listen to what they had to say. Laughing at their stories and asking more questions when they began to share something that was of interest to me. Sharing in the conversation in this way familiarity, comfort, and trust began to develop more and more.

Although these men I helped interview did not know what exactly would become of the recordings of the interview that contained personal memories and moments from their lives, they trusted what we had told them. Legal and ethical responsibility are often required and simply to meet, there is still a moral responsibility that researchers and interviewers have to the interviewee. To the person that has placed a certain amount of trust in them to use their memories and shared experiences in a way that will benefit others and not harm the individual. Where that responsibility ends and begins is difficult to say without looking at each and every situation, but the interviewer unquestionably has certain obligations to the individual, the project, and the profession.

Reflection on the Visit to the Day Center

The Auburn Housing Authority Oral History Project interview day with Auburn Senior citizens arrived long before I felt confident to conduct an actual oral history interview.  I visited the Leo Twiggs exhibit meet and greet session with the senior citizens last month at the Jule Collins Smith Museum to encounter a few people we would interview.  I felt that , other than a group discussion over the luncheon that included one senior citizen (Alice), I did not meet anyone.  The museum tour of the exhibit did not lend itself to interaction with the senior citizens in the group I was with. At the Housing Authority visit, Alice was again in attendance and eager to tell her story.  Alice is very close to my age, has an upbeat attitude and lots of energy.  I hoped that she would be willing to talk to me, and I did seek her out to interview.  My partner Tara  made the interview move smoothly. finding us a separate space from the main room, she kept a positive, comfortable vibe throughout.

It is hard to be objective in an oral history.  Hard to keep personal comparisons of life trajectories out of the story, especially when the interview turned into more of a conversation and some easygoing story telling.  The purpose of the oral interview was for Alice to be able to tell her life story, not a chat on a neighborhood stoop in Brooklyn.  Should there be a responsibility of the interviewer to the interviewee? I think definitely, yes.  I felt protective of the interviewee. I perceived that I was responsible for the story she was willing to tell. I felt responsible for the tears that fell as she told difficult crossroads of her story.  Why had I asked that question? Why did I pursue that story, when it would have been easier to ask a different question on a less vulnerable topic?  Is it okay to keep going down a story path that is not on the guiding questions list, but told about areas of Alabama history not often heard? the story of her grandmother, a country midwife and her grandfather, an unschooled, but knowledgeable folk art doctor could have been its own interview topic.  Alice knew how that type of medicine was practiced and where the herbal medicines were grown.

Ethically, where can the relationship with the interviewee develop? A power dimension is hard to ignore and makes the relationship unequal. My status as a professor is hard to ignore, even though I tried to be just one of the students in the Public History class. I don’t think I succeeded.

On the Ethics of Interviews: A Senior Center Reflection

Last week, I had the opportunity to help collect the oral histories of senior citizens in Auburn, Alabama, as part of a project for the class Fundamentals of Public History. This was my first experience interviewing someone with whom I was not already familiar, so the prospect was daunting at first. However, despite my previous anticipation, the interview went beyond smoothly and my partner Tracy and I were able to record a valuable interview with our chosen interviewee. Our subject, Mrs. Alice Walker, was delighted to share with us her story and required minimal prompting with the guiding questions in order to tell us about her life in the south. We laughed with her when she shared funny or amusing situations with us, and we frowned and became somber when she revealed harsher, more melancholy stories from her past.

Based upon this interview experience, I believe that oral history is subjective. Moreover, oral histories concerning someone’s lived experiences will often contain emotions, opinions, and personal feelings, so by definition it cannot be purely objective. Omitting the subjective leaves only the facts, the raw data. This arguably makes oral history from someone integral to a situation no different than someone reporting the facts from outside the topic of interest. Much of the value and the difficulty of oral histories stems from its inherent subjectivity.

Regarding the ethics of interviews, the interviewer has the responsibility to their subject to inform them of the subject of the interview, and what is going to be done with their interview material after the interview is conducted. Another of the interviewer’s responsibilities is to make sure the interviewee is aware that they are engaging in the interview of their own free will, and can withdraw at any time if they wish. Interviewers have the utmost responsibility to be honest and respectful of the interview subject, and to allow them to respond to questions as they see fit. It is appropriate to alter this behavior from formal to familiar as a relationship develops between interviewer and narrator, however, the responsibilities of the person conducting the interview should remain in place.

This experience reiterated the significance of the oral histories, as well as the importance of ethical behavior when conducting interviews.

Visiting the senior center: an informal response

Personal reflection first, Questions on ethics next. I think our trip to the senior center went rather well over all and was a big hit with the seniors themselves. I know with my particular group it was a little bit awkward because one interviewee came in later and neither women seemed to know the other that well so it left a little bit to be desired in how things where answered but we still got a pretty good amount of recording in. In terms of my own interviewing style I think it could use a bit of work, I got lucky in terms of how willing the two ladies where to talk and go into some details with out prompting but I found it difficult myself to get some follow up questions in. This may have been due in part to the nature of the interview with two interviewees rather than a one on one situation and myself feeling a bit awkward if I asked to many questions of one person and not the other. When it comes to objectivity and oral history I think it’s our responsibility to try and maintain a semblance of objectivity in our interview questions lest we lead the interview to produce the kind of responses we want, that doesn’t mean we should try and keep the interviewee’s answers objective, far from it as we’re seeking their subjective responses to our objective questions. Similarly we hold the responsibility to the interviewee to firstly be honest with them about what is being recorded and why and how we as historians intend to use the recorded interviews as well as to not use subjective questions to not create a one sided recording