Cultural History

A History Dissertation Goes Digital

A few months ago, Celeste Sharpe, then a graduate student at George Mason University (GMU), defended what is purportedly the first born-digital dissertation in the discipline of history. Sharpe describes her project, They Need You! Disability, Visual Culture, and the Poster Child, 1945–1980, as an examination of “the history of the national poster child—an official representative for both a disease and an organization—in post–World War II America.” In her project, Sharpe argues that “poster child imagery is vital for understanding the cultural pervasiveness of the idea of disability as diagnosis and how that understanding marginalized political avenues and policies outside of disease eradication in 20th-century America.” AHA Today caught up with Sharpe recently about the process of creating a born-digital dissertation, advice for graduate students considering similar projects, and future prospects. 

Chronicling “America’s African Instrument”: Laurent Dubois on the Cultural History of the Banjo

In The Banjo: America’s African Instrument (Harvard Univ. Press, 2016), Laurent Dubois weaves a narrative of how this instrument was created by enslaved Africans in the midst of bondage in the Caribbean and Americas. He documents its journey from 17th- and 18th-century plantations to 19th-century minstrel shows to the bluegrass of Appalachia to the folk revival of the mid-20th century. In the process, Dubois documents how the banjo came to symbolize community, slavery, resistance, and ultimately America itself. A historian of the Caribbean and a banjo player himself, Dubois relied on the work of academic historians as well as insights from musicians, collectors, and banjo makers to tell this story.

Creating Circumstances: Edward Bernays, Psychoanalysis, and the Making of American Consumer Culture

By Joseph Malherek

In 1929, it was socially acceptable for women to smoke at home and in certain public spaces, such as a hotel lobby. Smoking on the streets, however, was another matter altogether. George Washington Hill, the president of the American Tobacco Company, sought to quash this old taboo. He enlisted a public relations consultant, Edward Bernays, who had, in his years as a press agent, perfected the art of “creating circumstances” that would attract favorable coverage—and thus free publicity—in newspapers.

Clothes as Historical Sources: What Bloomers Reveal about the Women Who Wore Them

By Laura J. Ping

My interest in textiles came from my grandmother and her collection of carefully preserved family heirloom quilts. My favorite was the crazy quilt; my grandmother and I would spend hours examining the fabrics used in the patchwork and guessing if each piece had once been a man’s shirt, a woman’s dress, or perhaps a set of sheets. This early lesson in the importance of textiles has inspired my research on fashion, a flourishing field of study.

February 13, 2017

AHA Member Spotlight: Daniel Gifford

Daniel Gifford is a term assistant professor and the course coordinator of INTO Mason’s “American Cultures” course for international students at George Mason University. He lives in Arlington, Virginia, and has been a member since 2010.

The Muddled History of the Denver Omelet

By Rick Halpern

The Denver omelet is a near ubiquitous offering on diner and greasy spoon menus across the country, but what is the home city’s spin on this American perennial? And what can the culinary history of this dish tell us about the social history of the frontier West? Why not take advantage of a few days in Denver for the 2017 AHA annual meeting to explore these questions?