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DIY Girlhoods in the Long 19th Century: An Exhibit of Objects Made by Girls

Elissa Myers, English
Faculty Advisor: Dr. Talia Schaffer
Project Website: DIY Girlhoods in the Long 19th Century: An Exhibit of Objects Made by Girls

“The Camera Girl” by Otto Hatchard from the Strickland sisters’ paper, the “Illustrated Amateur Magazine” (1898)

This digital project will be a public-facing exhibit of needlework samplers and periodicals made by girls that I am examining in my dissertation, Crafting Girlhoods: Relational Agency, 1780-1920. The site’s curated exhibits will serve both scholars and the general public by making it easier to locate and interpret objects produced by children in the past.

Periodicals created by children in the 19th century are still immensely relevant because they are a missing link in the history of children’s do-it-yourself media such as zines, blogs, and YouTube channels. Like zine creators, children who made periodicals in the 19th century used modern media and circulation methods that democratized the printing process (toy hand-operated printing presses and the advent of mail circulated in flat-rate “bundles”), to create works that created and reinforced alternative communities. However, these early democratic periodicals are not written about as a unique form by scholars, which has resulted in the general public also knowing less about them. Like periodicals, needlework samplers were done by many different types of girls– in large part because they were didactic pieces of sewing that girls created at school. However, in comparison to periodicals, there are many more samplers that are known to have survived and are available to view online.

My goals are therefore different in approaching these two craft forms. In putting periodical images online, my goal is to make available resources that are difficult for the general public to see in person, while in putting samplers online, I aim to help novice users and those more familiar with samplers interpret the wealth of samplers that are available to view online. For both samplers and periodicals, I aim to preserve the objects’ unique materiality by allowing viewers to see pictures of each periodical page alongisde their transcriptions and close-ups of samplers. Periodical and sampler images will be juxtaposed in exhibits so that viewers can have a model of how material objects created by children can be interpreted, helping to provide a methodological boost to the burgeoning interest in material culture and children’s own artistic creations within the discipline of Children’s Literature.