On March 8-9, 2019, the Graduate History Association presented the 28th Annual Milton Plesur Graduate History Conference, (Im)material Culture: Identity and Agency in Commonplace Objects. The Executive Board chose this theme to continue our department’s work which focuses on re-orienting the historical gaze away from traditional (masculine, political) histories and toward a more inclusive and diverse social narrative. We accepted papers on any historical topic but specifically sought to bring historical perspective to issues related to the study of material culture and the roles objects play in history.
In keeping with our theme of material culture, the Executive Board invited Katherine Ott, curator at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, to present the keynote address at the conference on March 8. We were especially interested in Ott’s use of material culture as a lens through which to research disability and reveal the stories traditional history has left behind. Ott presented her keynote address entitled “The Wisdom of Objects” in which she elaborated on her published work and provided images of various objects she has come across during her work at the Smithsonian. As part of her presentation, Ott challenged us to reconsider the purpose of keys, the meaning of “normal” and the many ways that we utilize crutches in our lives.
The conference further included 21 presentations by graduate students and independent scholars from the University at Buffalo, Mercyhurst University, McGill University, University of Pittsburgh, Westfield State University, University of Rochester, St. John’s University, University of Puerto Rico-Río Pedras Campus, and University of Cincinnati.
The Executive Board, Victoria Nachreiner, Tanya Blakeley-Clark, Holly Atkins, and James Dobrowolski, would like to thank all of the volunteers from the department including faculty members: Victoria Wolcott, Ndubueze Mbah, Susan Cahn, and Cari Casteel and alumnus Averill Earls who graciously chaired our panels. We would also like to thank the Plesur Committee members Eric Deutsch and Emily Seger for all their help organizing this year’s successful conference!