Tag Archives: Carlen Lea Lesser

Five Telling objects (how to be your own curator)

Yesterday, I invited people to identify objects that they find telling.

I got some great answers.  (Please, it’s not to late to submit.  Send me entries as comments to grant27 AT gmail DOT com, or leave them as comments below.)  

From Richard Shear:

I would submit two things, one I own and one I admire. The former is my Macintosh 128 purchased from a Manhattan Apple dealer on the Monday morning after the now iconic 1984 Super Bowl ad.

The latter is any plate from Josiah Wedgwood’s 944 piece "Frog" service produced for Catherine the Great, and introduced with great fanfare in a custom designed London showroom in 1773.  

These are both products of unique businessmen and entrepreneurs with a keen sense of design, technology, retail merchandising, marketing, showmanship, the power of brands, and, yes, contemporary culture.

They may have been introduced 211 years apart, yet they both created the same kind of buzz, with people waiting in line anxiously anticipating the chance to see and admire.  The legacy of Wedgwood has endured.  It would be interesting to see where Steve Job’s legacy stands in the year 2195, 211 years after the introduction of MacIntosh 1984.

From Carol Saller:

The diary my father kept as a teen during WWII. His older brother was a bomber pilot, but Dad stayed on the farm.

Students love the war passages, the girl-crush passages, the mischief, and just generally the look into such a foreign time and place. (There are passages that make almost no sense to modern urban kids.)

The diary has launched conversations about the war, farm life, writing a diary or journal, 1940s culture, and how language changes and stays the same.  

For Carol’s blog, go here.

For more on Carol’s father’s war diary, 
go here

From Grant McCracken:

This is one of the few personal things to survive from my childhood.  Happily, it’s one of the most telling. It’s a toy soldier, a Scottish Highlander.  It’s made from some kind of rubber.  The left arm, the one bearing the rifle, actually swivels, something I found thrilling as a kid. On the bottom, it reads "Made in England."  

This soldier comes from a Canada long since passed. This was the (part of) Canada that admired things British, the Canada that was still very much a part of a commonwealth, the Canada not long removed from it’s status as a colony.  

How did these Canadians raise their kids?  With toys that celebrated their Scottish connection as this was played out in the service of empire.  It sounds a little sad, I know.  But it was an excellent childhood.  Any kind of service is good training.  You can change the object of the service as you go.  

From Steve Crandall

I have indirectly done this [the Prown teaching technique] when I teach and bring in a slide rule.

I worry about the high level of innumeracy among students and a slide rule represents an elegant way to immerse yourself in ‘back of the envelope’ calculations.

It gives a sense of what a logarithm is and you have to sort out the powers of ten and carry them in your head. It is also only approximate and I believe that gives a natural feeling towards understanding and analyzing errors and error propagation.

Of course these are archaic in general use, but it is a way to be playful with simple calculations and perhaps understand more deeply than students who blindly plug numbers into spreadsheets and the like.

From Carlen Lea Lesser:

I think it’s telling that I’m having a hard time choosing just one or two things. I was going to pick the toy stuffed rabbit I’ve had since I was a baby, but I realized I don’t have any pictures of it!

Then I racked my brain a bit and settled on my "Prophets’ Cup." I had this custom made for me a few years ago for Passover.

Traditionally there is an Elijah’s cup at Passover and some have also added a Miriam’s cup. I actually wrote my own haggadah for Passover (even sold a few copies), and evolved this concept into a "Prophets’ Cup."

To me this cup represents a lot, since it’s a product of my research, scholarship, imagination, creativity, writing, experimentation and eventual collaboration with a potter to create it. I feel like this cup presents so many opportunities to have conversations and ask questions that I guess it would be the one I would use.

Steam punk: a square inch of contemporary culture by Carlen Lea Lesser

A couple of weeks ago, I was corresponding with Carlen Lea Lesser about Steampunk and its influence on a recent Burberry line of clothing called Prorsum Line.  

I asked Carlen if she would consider writing a few hundred words on Steampunk and the line.  I have a rough idea about what Steampunk is but I wanted Carlen’s "square inch" on the topic.  She was kind enough to oblige.  

Here then is Carlen on Steampunk.

I was completely stunned as I read Chief Culture Officer and saw a reference to Steampunk and how it was an important trend to watch and understand.  I don’t think I ever would have thought to find a fringe subculture/sub-culture discussed in a book like that, but maybe I should have.

Steampunk began as a sub-genre of Science Fiction and Fantasy fiction.  It is generally characterized as a blending of either Victorian-style and modern technology or Jazz-age style and modern technology.  It’s a world of "what if?"  What if we had steam powered cars?  What if we had computers that ran on clockworks?  What if dirigibles were a common form of transportation? Dirigibles (think of the Hindenburg) are a dead giveaway that what you are reading or watching is at least influenced by Steampunk.  The films Lemony Snickett, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, The Golden Compass, and even the Harry Potter films, are recent examples of mainstream Steampunk influenced films.  But don’t think this is an entirely new idea, the true father of this lived in the actual steam era: H.G. Wells.

At its heart, Steampunk today is a revival movement, but with a twist — it’s intentionally anachronistic. When the Victorians were in their Neo-classical revival phase it was hardly purist.  You can find a telling bell-jar or antimacassar on the scene to give it away.  Plus, they were a bit obsessed with clutter and could never really master that simplicity.  But it wasn’t done with a wink and a nod.   Steampunk is.  It imagines a world where the old and the new blended together.  Sometimes this is presented as just how the world evolved, and sometimes it’s presented as a post-apocalyptic rebuilding of technology and culture.  In the latter, the Steampunk blending of old and new is out of necessity and ingenuity.

Like a lot of fictional worlds, Steampunk has crossed over into real life.  Some people live this as a true lifestyle, some do it a hobby and at conventions, and some just fuse it into life as a sensibility.  This ranges from everything from inventing amazing Steampunk gadgets (working or not) to fully adopting a Steampunk fashion aesthetic.  Some people go all out with this, but many, like me, find ways to subtly work the style into a wardrobe without it, hopefully, looking like I’m wearing a costume all the time.  Maybe it’s just the cut of a jacket, granny boots, a pendant made from old watch parts, or my current favorite – an antiqued bee pendant with a working compass embedded into it.

The Steampunk aesthetic is clearly tapping into what I would call a growing sense of pragmatic optimism, and hints of it starting to appear more and more in mainstream culture.  Recently I even noticed it in Burberry’s new Prorsum line of clothing.  Burberry is not a brand I’ve ever had any interest in, which is why I was so stunned by the Fall 2011 line they recently debuted.  If you don’t know about Steampunk you might just see the military trend that seems to be working it’s way back into our wardrobes again.  When I look at it, I see a luxury brand’s interpretation of Steampunk.  Specifically it called to mind Warren Ellis’ amazing graphic novel series, Freak Angels.

Freak Angels is in the post-apocalyptic school of Steampunk, which is always amazingly optimistic.  But this line of Steampunk isn’t a dreamy utopian form of optimism. It’s a very pragmatic form of optimism.  Think of it as, "yes we blew up the world and that seriously sucks – but let’s get to the rebuilding and try not to screw it up quite so badly this time.  And if someone would invent a way to take a hot shower that would be bloody brilliant."

The Prorsum 2011 Fall line, evokes the slightly "ragamuffin fabulous" feel of post-apocalyptic Steampunk without making the wearer look like they are heading over to ComicCon.   One could say that the resemblance is superficial, but if you look a the collection as a whole and the way it’s presented, I think you’ll find that most of same cultural ingredients that lead to Steampunk are at work here too.


McCracken, Grant.  2010.  Square Inch Anthropology.  This Blog Sits at the Intersection of Anthropology and Economics.  December 17.  click here.


The image is from the Burberry.com website and shows a jacket from the Prorsum line.