Meet the Professor: Jenna Weissman Joselit

29 Aug
Prof. Jenna Weissman Joselit

Prof. Jenna Weissman Joselit

This post is written by UHP Professor Jenna Weissman Joselit.

Interested in gossip?  In the intimate details of daily life?  In travel and food and technology?  Then the study of History is your bag. Or ought to be.  Most of us tend to associate the study of the past with reams of facts, heaps of dates and dreary textbooks.  But if I had my way, History would spark your imagination, not dull it.

As an historian of vernacular culture – a fancy way of defining the everyday – I spend most of my waking hours (and some of my dreaming life, too) trying to reconstruct how people in, say, 16th century Venice or downtown Manhattan of the early 1900s, earned a living, dressed themselves and their homes, occupied their free time, practiced their faith and found their place in the world.  What they ate for breakfast, lunch and dinner is also of great interest to me, as is the way they made room for new forms of technology in their day-to-day routine.

The arts also loom large in my encounter with the past. How did earlier generations see and depict the world, I wonder?  What did they hear all about them? What kinds of things did they collect and put on display?  Did they go to museums? To concerts?  Kick up their heels and dance?

The challenges – and rewards – of looking for sources that reveal the texture of the everyday and the commonplace are many. It’s one thing, after all, to explore the roots of conflict or the process of industrialization. It’s quite another to figure out what someone in the 16th century had for breakfast.

To be an historian of daily life requires the instincts of a detective, the patience of a saint and an appetite for other people’s stories.

Why not swing by my office at 2142 G Street and share yours with me. I’d like that very much.  And who knows?  You just might end up becoming an historian.

-Jenna Weissman Joselit-


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