Reflections from Guest Curator Mary Williams

As a senior History major, I’ve gotten to the point where I’ve solidified my routine of how I go about tackling historical essays and responses. Writing history papers has become a formula for me. It’s a calculated process with a set order to things. I am given a very specific topic, and I focus on defending a very specific answer.

When I sat down to write my first Adverts 250 response, I was overwhelmed with the freedom I was given. There was no prompt, and if there was a formula for success, I didn’t know it. At first, I figured the safest thing that I could do was to just pick an item from the advertisement that I was already familiar with. That way, I could provide an analysis that was similar to my usual history essays and responses. I could remain within my comfort zone. Thankfully, a few sentences in, I scratched that approach.

I began searching random phrases and words from the advertisements. I found numerous articles, books, blog posts, and pictures. One search would lead to another, and each valuable find would inspire me to ask new questions (which would then again result in more searches). I got into this cycle of digging through material, finding keywords, asking new questions, changing my original questions, and searching for more material all over again. It was such an unorganized process, unlike the history work that I am so used to.

Having the chance to “do history” through this project was both refreshing and exciting. I felt like I learned so much more from being able to engage in the research process myself. I really enjoyed being able to choose my own sources. I think the most difficult part about choosing my own sources proved to be finding dependable and recent sources. Sometimes I would find a relevant source, but it would be from so long ago that I would need to find another source that was published more recently to make sure I was getting updated information.

My favorite topic that I wrote about in this project was on my entry on November 14 from the New-Hampshire Gazette. I chose to research buckskin and sheepskin gloves that were advertised as the “neatest made Gloves for Funerals.” I knew absolutely nothing about funerals in colonial America, so I was extremely curious about how gloves related to colonial funerals. When I learned that families of the deceased distributed gloves to funeral attendees, I was shocked. Giving a parting gift, especially one that could be pricey, to funeral-goers was a practice that seemed so foreign to me. It’s so interesting to me that at one point in time, specifically 1766, this listing wouldn’t have been shocking to colonists in the slightest. The beauty of learning through analyzing advertisements is that it shows us the consumer culture at the time. Consumer culture gives us information about what sorts of things people wanted and needed, which tells us a lot about what kind of lives people from the past lived.

I can honestly say that I am disappointed that I didn’t have too many opportunities to do research like this in my previous history classes. I really enjoyed the independence that came with finding important information on my own. I am not only majoring in History, but also in Education. This project has given me a lot of inspiration about what kind of work I want my future students to engage in. I have retained so much more information from this project than my usual history work. I believe this is because I was not just skimming some assigned source and writing a response to it; instead, I was active in the process of finding information, which made it so much more valuable to me. I’m really thankful that I got a chance to guest curate the Adverts 250 Project, and I’m excited to read future entries posted by my classmates.

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