All posts by collodionista

The Last Post

Wow, so it is a bit insane that this school year is coming to a close. It’s been a trip for sure. Although this wasn’t my first experience with grad school, it was definitely a different experience from anything I have done before. First of all, it was great to take history classes again. Despite the stress of doing a lot of reading and writing, it’s still always fun to have the opportunity to explore new historical themes and perspectives. I think it’s great that the department gives us the freedom to take pretty much whatever we are interested in outside of the required courses. Taking classes like Dr. Hirsh’s History of Technology and Dr. Halpin’s US History from 1877 has been really informative and fun. I’ve been able to learn a lot and broaden my understanding of history. I’m looking forward to the classes I will take next year as well, even if I haven’t quite figured out what exactly I want to take.

I think taking courses like the two methods classes, Dr. Quigley’s research class, and the writing workshop were also very helpful. When I came here I had spent over a year out of school, so I was a little rusty on my research and writing skills. I feel like I’ve sharpened them a lot this year, and I feel totally prepared to begin my research this summer and then my research paper in the fall. Not only do I feel like a better writer, but I also feel like I am much better at taking constructive criticism. I’m going to be working on my project next year with the support of a fantastic, supportive committee, and I feel that I’m in the position to have a great thesis-writing experience next year.

Finally, I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity I’ve had to work at Special Collections this year, and I look forward to going back in the fall. I have learned so much there, and gotten to work with some really cool collections. Special Collections has a great team of archivists and student workers, that are frankly just an absolute blast to work with. I know I’m not going on to work in academia. I’ve known that for a long time. Public history just makes sense for me, and working at Spec has reinforced that for me. I’m not sure if I will go on to work at an archives somewhere down the road, but I do know why I love the public history field. Although working with rare collections is super cool, my favorite part of working in an archives is helping people. Every week we all work a number of hours at the front desk working directly with the researchers who come in. Sometimes they know exactly what they want to look at. Other times they need a little more guidance. I love helping all of them. I love learning about the projects they are doing. I love the satisfaction of helping them find exactly what they need. To me, my weekly desk shifts remind me of why I have always loved public history and want to continue down that path. I love helping the public access history whether that’s through pulling a collection of Civil War letters for a patron or giving interpretive programs. I’m really glad I get to be reminded of that every week, and it makes me even more anxious to finish up this degree and get out there to do it full time.



Meeting news

I finally had my committee meeting this week, well, my partial committee meeting, that is since Dr. Gitre won’t be joining us until the fall. Dr. Halpin and Dr. Quigley were of great help, though. I think I have really ended up with a fantastic committee. We all seem to be on the same wavelength and they are tremendously supportive and encouraging.

One of the most interesting suggestions Dr. Quigley made that I had not really considered was to look at some works on transnational history. he suggested several helpful titles. Although at this point I’m not sure if I will have time to fit them into my proposal by its due date, I definitely will dig into them over the summer. I look forward to giving them a look.

in more practical terms, Dr. Halpin and Dr. Quigley, also gave me some great advice about researching in the archives. I came away from the meeting with a checklist of things to do before I begin my quest. I must say, having worked in two archives now, I think that has made me a much better patron. The more information you go in with the better and the more likely the archivist you are working with will like you. To be honest, I am so ready for this semester to be over so I can actually dive into my collections. I bought my plane tickets to New Haven this week, and my journey begins June 8th. I can’t wait!

Another week down

I don’t have much to report this week. My revision process continues. I’m really trying to target that historiography section. Thankfully Spenser gave me some excellent suggestions about beefing up my frontier studies portion. I also decided I am going to wait to send Dr. Gitre my proposal when I have finished my revisions. I think that will give her a much better introduction to my project. I’m very excited to work with her, though!

Unfortunately I had to cancel my meeting with Dr. Halpin this week, so we’re actually going to meet this coming Tuesday to discuss everything. I did have a quick meeting with Dr. Quigley, though. He is officially on my committee and is enthusiastic about my project. He is working on comments for me, but since our first draft of our final paper for his class is due tomorrow, I told him that there was no rush on my proposal. Hopefully I will have some comments from him by the end of this coming week. I look forward to his feedback. I am also in the process of trying to arrange a meeting with Dr. Halpin and Dr. Quigley. With any luck we’ll be able to squeeze one in soon.



Dr. Halpin and Dr. Jones gave me some very useful and insightful comments on my proposal draft, which I am currently figuring out how to utilize them in my second draft. I actually will be meeting with Dr. Halpin this Tuesday to discuss his comments more in depth, so that should help me even more.

I am also very happy with the suggestions the Graduate Committee gave me for my thesis committee. I spoke to Dr. Quigley about being on the committee, and he was very happy to join. I will be meeting with him this Thursday to further discuss his thoughts on my proposal. I am looking forward to working with him very much.

Turabian really opened up my eyes to the nuances of feedback reception. I eagerly anticipate tomorrow’s discussion on how to to better propose a thesis and receive constructive criticism.

Adventures in Proposal Writing

The proposal writing process was eye-opening for me in a really good way. It was very intimidating before I actually sat down to write it, but when I did, it came pretty easily. Although I may have felt unprepared, I don’t think I was as much as I thought. I feel that I am getting a really good grasp on my project despite the fact that I have only worked on it in earnest for the last couple of months. Obviously, I have a lot of polishing to do on my proposal, but I am confident about the start I made.


Specifically, I would like to work on my historiography a little more. There are more books, especially in business history and frontier history, that I would like to look at and use. My list of secondary readings continues to grow. I am sure it will keep doing so as well.


It’s been quite a week


From my standpoint, I think the conference went pretty well. Granted this semester my primary responsibility was making sure the two days of the conference were well photographically documented since I did most of my organizational work with the budget committee last semester. I haven’t gotten a chance to go through my images yet. I’ll probably try to process them next week. It did give me the unique opportunity of seeing (at least in part) all of the panels and presentations, so I feel like I can confidently say it all ran pretty smoothly. There were a few times the technology in the rooms didn’t cooperate, but that’s really just to be expected. I think the public history panel was great, and I think we should do something similar next year. I also really enjoyed Dr. Brundage’s talk. For some reason it was not what I expected, but I found it quite brilliant. Kara Walker is one of my favorite contemporary artists, and I found his take on her and the legacy of the Civil War quite fascinating.

In terms of suggestions for improvements, I don’t have many. I think we all need to work on our communication skills, though. Communicating clearly what has to be done, when it has to be done, what’s changed, etc. is really important when executing these things. We were all a little guilty of letting this break down at certain points in the planning process, but I think we can do better next year. I think the HGSA officers and the other second years did a really great job and worked very hard and provided us with a good model of how to run our conference next year.

Also, just a sidenote, getting Panera to cater was awesome. I definitely think we should do that next year. Major win!


Methodology: More Thoughts

Honestly, the concept of methodology continues to be a little slippery for me. I’m still trying to suss out what is going to work best for my project. I am sure, however, the more I think about it and the more I talk with Dr. Halpin that I will need to cobble a few different theoretical frameworks together. For my project, I really feel some sort of economic analysis is important. I’m basing my measure of success on levels of economic success. My challenge when implementing this aspect will be to keep it from getting too boring. I’ve tried to read some economic histories before and found them quite dull. I do not want that to happen with my project. I also think gender theory should play some part in my paper. Since, as I mentioned last week, the photography trade seems to be one of only a few during the 19th century that was not necessarily gendered, I need to explore why this was so. Also, since a main component of my argument looks at the nature of the frontier lands were my photographers were working, frontier studies will play an important part in my methodology. I really do believe that their location helped ease their pathways to success, so understanding the nature of life on the frontier is essential in my study. Finally, and this is extremely new territory for me, but I’m planning to utilize borderlands studies in my work as well. The more I have been researching the more clear it has become that the U.S. Canadian border on the West really was not a solid “border” until the first few decades of the 20th century. I know, from some preliminary research I did last year, there was interaction between Mr. and Mrs. Maynard and the Californians. They often got their supplies for their studio from California. I am still working this out, but I want to approach the area I am studying as the Pacific Coast not as the U.S. and Canada or really as California and B.C. San Francisco and Victoria were two of the urban hubs along the Pacific Coasts so considering how their interactions played out for the photo community is important to me. We’ll see how my combination goes as I sally forth.

Second crack at the focus statement

Also before I begin, there was something in my first attempt that I don’t think I explained or was asked to explain, but that is important. I’m choosing to look at a time period between 1850 and 1880 (technically 1885 but that looks weird when I state it that way. I’m working on it.) I am doing this because these provide two important bookends, for lack of a better word, in the history of photography. 1850 saw the first dag studio run by a woman in California. 1850 also marks a point at which commercial photography had become ubiquitous in North America. 1885 saw the birth of film courtesy of George Eastman thus giving rise to the ubiquitous popularity of amateur photography. “You press the button. We do the rest.” I think this changed the nature of studio photography. People still used them, but they were no longer much of the public’s only access to photography anymore. Photography took on a more informal nature outside of the walls of the studio. Ok, I just wanted to get that out, now on to my statement.

I am researching female photographers, specifically female photography studio owners in frontier towns on the Pacific coast of North America from 1850 to 1880.  I argue that photography was one of the first vocations in which a person’s gender did not inhibit them from practicing or being financially successful in his or her business endeavors. I also argue that, in the case of women on the Pacific coast, this success was greatly aided by the fact that their businesses were started when this area was considered the frontier and Anglo-Saxon settlement of the area was in its infancy. Populations were small in western cities and towns at this time, but the demand for photographic services were still present placing skilled photographers in high demand and thus allowing for female practitioners to get their foot in the door and establish studios that eventually grew and flourished like cities surrounding them. This study is significant because very little work has been done on female photographers as entrepreneurs. This study aims to fill a significant gap in the scholarship to show that although the economy, as well as the photography trade within that economy, were predominantly male dominated during the time which my study examines women did make a significant contribution to the market and several managed to establish and run successful photographic businesses while gaining the respect of the communities in which their businesses were located.

Secondary readings

Back to the subject of borderlands, Dr. Halpin suggested to articles for me to start with. Those are what I squeezed in this week. The first is “From Borderlands to Borders: Empires, Nation-States, and the Peoples in between in North American History” written by Jeremy Adelman and Stephen Aron. The second is “Borderlands and the Future History of the American West” by Kelly Lytle Hernández. First of all both of these articles helped me understand just what exactly borderlands studies are. I haven’t done a lot of exploration into that field of scholarship prior to this point in time, so that was very helpful. Both articles were nice introductions into the field and the historiography therein, which, is probably why Dr. Halpin suggested them ha ha ha. Both pieces really showed the importance of borderlands studies in our understanding of the changing conceptions of the western frontier. I think both pieces made the argument that they are going to be increasingly important as the field progresses in the next ten, twenty, and thirty years. That was good news for me since I’m incorporating borderlands into my study. The footnotes were incredibly helpful for suggesting some other works to look at, which I definitely intend to do soon.


Y’all ready for this? (focus statement)

Ok, so I still don’t feel entirely ready to start working up arguments, but here is my first attempt at a focus statement and argument. Please be gentle.

I am researching female photographers, specifically female photography studio owners in frontier towns on the Pacific coast of North America from 1850 to 1880. Although the economy, as well as the photography trade within that economy, were predominantly male dominated, I argue that women made a significant contribution to the market and several managed to establish and run successful photographic businesses while gaining the respect of the communities in which their businesses were located. I further argue that this success was greatly aided by the fact that their businesses were started when the Pacific coast was considered the frontier and Anglo-Saxon settlement of the area was in its infancy. Populations were small in western cities and towns at this time, but the demand for photographic services were still present placing skilled photographers in high demand and thus allowing for female practitioners to get their foot in the door and establish studios that eventually grew and flourished like cities surrounding them. This study is significant because it aims to show that photography was one of the first equal opportunity vocations in which a person’s gender did not inhibit them from practicing or being financially successful in their endeavors.

Break Update

To be honest, I did not get to do much extra work on my thesis project outside of the class assignments for this week.  I had to use my break to prep to present at the Civil War Weekend, catch up on some other class assignments, and unfortunately also deal with a very sick cat in the ICU of the VT vet school’s hospital, not exactly a pleasurable break.

I did look at some more secondary reading, and I think I’ll start by talking about those. I found a really fantastic essay in a book called Shadow and Substance: Essays on the History of Photography. (Ok, I realize, I’m supposed to be taking a break from photo history readings, but this was really too good not to blog about and important when considering how to approach my sources when I finally get to look at the majority of them). The essay is called “Nineteenth-Century Women Photographers” and is by William Culp Darrah who was a pretty important figure in the world of photo history. What makes this article great is that it does not talk about the famous amateurs like Cameron, Lady Hawarden, etc. but it actually explores the women in the photography trade. I think it is important to stress that for most of the 19th century, photography was considered a trade in North America rather than an art unless you were wealthy and had lots of leisure time to devote to playing around with this (re: ladies I mentioned above). Darrah examines the nature of the business for women, the ways in which women became involved, estimates of the number of women involved in photography as a trade, the public reception of female photo work versus male photo work. For me, it was most helpful to look at the primary sources he engaged to draw the conclusions that he did in the article. He did a lot of number crunching by looking at sources like business directories, tax lists, Census documents. I am still interested in measuring success among female photographers on the Pacific coast. I think the way Darrah looked at those types of sources is a good way to try to get a grasp on what made photographers successful during that time, and I think that a definition of success should be based upon numbers-how many photos were being produced a day, month, and year; how many customers came through the doors on an average day, week, month; how many employees were kept in a studio; equipment used and updated; studio spaces changed or renovated; etc. I hope that when I get to visit the archives I can find sources that reveal this kind of information so I can take a page from Darrah and try to explore these photographers on an economic level.

I was also very delighted to discover a book called Capital Intentions: Female Proprietors in San Francisco, 1850-1920. I think I’ve mentioned here before that I’ve had a bit of a hard time finding information about female business owners in the 19th century, so stumbling on this really recent publication (2006), was awesome. Unfortunately she does not discuss photographers in her work, but it still gives a great understanding of the economic landscape for women in an urban center in the West. It was a male-dominated landscape to be sure, but that did not keep women from entering the workforce as independent business owners. She argues that the women who did take the risk to do so, played important roles in shaping that landscape and thus the gap that has until recently existed when studying entrepreneurship in the 19th century has created a huge gap in our understanding of bigger picture of economic history during this time period. I really liked the way Sparks worked with her sources, much the same way that I liked the way Darrah worked with his. As well as illuminating the restrictions, business practices, and motivations of the women proprietors of San Francisco, Sparks really shows that those women made huge contributions to San Francisco during this time. Since this is one of the cities whose photographers I am examining, it’s nice to realize that my photographers were part of that. Sparks book was incredibly helpful for me.

Finally, the article I looked at for methodological guidance was Karen Anderson’s “Work, Gender, and Power in the American West” published in Pacific Historical Review. This piece was pretty useful for me. Her main focus was how to apply feminist and gender theory to labor and economic history in the west so in several ways it was almost a how-to for what I am trying to do, or at least a good place to start as I develop a methodology for tackling my subject. Anderson argues that in order to study women and labor in the West, scholars cannot be afraid of using theoretical frameworks and indeed, they really must use them in order to study women in the West most effectively. She gives a really wonderful examination of how scholars such as Rubin, Scott, and Gordon have implemented gender theory when discussing work and gender. I feel like the world of theory can be a really intimidating place, but Anderson’s synopses of different theoretical frameworks in this context was very helpful and made theory seem more approachable when using it in historical analysis in this particular area. She also examined some successful examples of historical studies about the West, which used theoretical frameworks, and I may check those out later.

Mary Allen with her view camera. She ran a photography business with her sister Frances

Some Secondary Sources

I don’t have much to report on my project this week. I did work up a preliminary bibliography, which was useful for getting me organized. It did, however, make me realize how much reading I’ve stacked up for myself. I guess I know how I’ll be spending spring break.

The two secondary sources I looked at this week were Alice Kessler-Harris’s Out to Work: A History of Wage-Earning Women in the United States Jennifer Henderson’s Settler Feminism and Race Making in Canada.

Unfortunately Out to Work did not deliver as much for me as I had hoped. The section of her book concerned with the Civil War through WWI, did not talk about entrepreneurs. It was more concerned with, as the title suggests, wage-earners. It was a bit of a long shot, but it did give me a good grounding in the way in which the labor market at that time was structured and what places it held for women. She did a great job of explaining the effect the Civil War had on opening up previously closed avenues in the labor force for women. In that sense it was a useful start for me as I try to piece together an understanding of working women in the 19th century US.

With Henderson’s work, I found a little more to work with. She takes a really interesting approach by looking at three separate works from the 19th century (Anna Jameson’s Winter Studies and Summer Rambles in Canada, Theresa Gowanlock’s and Theresa Delaney’s, Two Months in the Camp of Big Bear, and Emily Murphy’s Janey Canuck books). She taps heavily into feminist theory in her analysis, but it was still a rather straightforward examination of what it meant to be a female settler in Canada in the 19th century. It was certainly an interesting approach to explore those meanings through literature, but Henderson successfully shows that they are useful lenses through which to gain insight on the lives of Canadian settler women in the west and north of Canada. I think I want to look at the actual works she profiles in her book if I have time not just to see for myself if Henderson’s assertions are feasible, but also because they just sound really interesting. Although, I am certainly not trying to do anything close to what Henderson does in her work, it was a useful start for me to sort of get to know the woman of the Canadian frontier, her experiences and identity. There were definitely similarities between the Canadian settler and her American counterpart, but interesting differences as well, that I hope to understand better and explore in my study. I still have more work to do to tug those similarities and differences out into the light, but I found a good start with this book.

In 1883 all this Scovill dry plate photographic kit could be yours for $10. Too bad I’ve read that they weren’t that good. Also, how anybody can go take field photographs in a bustle is beyond me.

Daguerriean AND Midwife?

So I want to provide a quick update on where my project is at the moment. I actually have switched my focus to female studio owners on the American frontier. There were a great deal of early photographers in California (dating to the 1850s). I think the frontier provided some unique entrepreneurial opportunities for women that simply weren’t as prevalent back East. I still want to look at Hannah Maynard as well. The border between the US and Canadian western frontier was really nebulous at the time, and I think if I am looking at frontier photographers, despite the difference in nationality, Hannah Maynard is a very important figure. I’ll have to brush up a little on my Canadian history, but she is too interesting not to examine in this study.

Unfortunately, many of the sources I am interested in are not digitized, so finding a primary source to use for class was a little challenging. Fortunately, however, Purdue’s online Women in Photography Archive provided a very interesting advertisement from the 1850s for Julia Shannon. Shannon, was one of the earliest photographers, male or female, to set up shop in California. That in itself is incredibly compelling, but the content of the advertisement itself is even more so. It advertises Mrs. Shannon’s services as a “Daguerriean” and a midwife. This obviously raises a number of questions for me. How did Shannon become involved in the photography business? Was it common practice for early female photographers to operate other businesses in addition to their studios? Did Shannon transition completely from midwifery to photography as the century progressed? What brought Mrs. Shannon out west in the first place? Did she provide discounts on baby pictures for mothers for which she acted as a midwife? Ok, that last question was in jest, but the advert is really a curious piece indeed. I won’t say any more about it here, because I don’t want to spoil my presentation, but I look forward to seeing what everyone has to say about it in class.

I met with Dr. Halpin last week to catch up on my project. I discussed with him the difficulty I have had trying to find good secondary material on female entrepreneurs in the 19th century. In my mind, it seems ridiculous that there weren’t women in America in a variety of circumstances and trades running businesses during this time. If there were female studio owners as I have found, how then could there not have been female-owned millinery shops, general stores, etc? Luckily, Dr. Halpin was able to give me a few sources to start with. The two I looked at this week were from a special edition of The Business History Review which focused on the history of women in business.

I read two of the articles from the issue: Kathy Peiss’s “‘Vital Industry’ and Women’s Ventures: Conceptualizing Gender in Twentieth Century Business History” and Wendy Gamber’s “A Gendered Enterprise: Placing Nineteenth-Century Businesswomen in History.”

Gamber’s piece really helped me answer some of the questions I’ve had about business women in the 19th century. She confirmed my suspicions that, yes, there were a significant amount of women in the US during that time period, and unfortunately, the reason why I have had trouble finding information about them is that there is a pretty big gap in the scholarship. What I found most helpful from her work is the suggestion that business is a gendered enterprise. Taking a page from Joan Scott’s book, in order to understand women in business we need to understand where the construct of gender comes into play. She notes on pages 216-217, “Because business historians have assumed that business is a masculine endeavor, because labor historians embrace models that allow little space for petty entrepreneurs, and because few women’s historians have found female entrepreneurship a congenial subject, our knowledge of the history of women in business is still incomplete. Much work, empirical and theoretical, remains to be done. Only then will we be able to render businesswomen visible, to see them not as exceptions to preconceived rules, but as part o the gendered history of economic life.” Unfortunately, I think I’ve looked at them as exceptions to the male-dominated norm, so that little nugget from Gamber has left me with a lot to chew on. I’ve reread her piece about four times now, and I’m still digesting it, but I really think her approach will help me as I study my photographers.

Katy Peiss’s piece was less helpful for me. I thought that maybe I might find something useful, but since it is a piece about women in business in the 20th century, I didn’t. It was worth a shot, though. If anyone is interested in the gendering of corporations, I would encourage you to read it, though. There was also a great deal about the beauty industry in it, so maybe Rose should check it out if she hasn’t already.