Abigail (Abby) Glogower is a PhD Candidate in Visual and Cultural Studies at the University of Rochester, where she focuses on nineteenth-century American art and visual culture. Her dissertation (which she hopes to complete in 2016) explores the many roles print portraiture played in constructing social knowledge between 1820 and 1860. She is currently preparing a manuscript for publication about McKenney and Hall’s History of the Indian Tribes of North America (1837–1844), which she presented on at the 2014 NCSA conference in Chicago and her review of NCSA 2015 speaker Jennifer Roberts’s newest book, Transporting Visions: The Movement of Images in Early America, will appear in issue 50 of the British Journal of American Studies. Abby has taught courses in writing and art history at the University of Rochester, curated exhibits at the Rush Rhees Library Department of Rare Books, Special Collections, and Preservation, and is a History of Photography docent at the George Eastman House Museum in Rochester. She and her partner, Josh, share their home with their three dogs: Emmett, Judah, and Lucy.
Is there anything from the nineteenth century you wished would come back into fashion?Posture! During my fourth year of graduate school, I experienced an unfortunate academic rite of passage: a stress- and hunching-induced chronic lower back injury. The road to recovery has included a good deal of body re-education, and I’m more tuned in to how social and material culture affect the way we sit, stand, and move. Nineteenth-century portraiture reminds me to try to carry myself with poise that is not only more visually commanding but also better for my health. Like many people, I had some serious gripes with Sarah Chrisman’s recent piece about living in the Victorian era, but was really struck by her posture on the TV show, The View. Whereas everyone else slouched and slumped, she sat perfectly straight. I have always thought of corsets as evil patriarchal tools—and still do. Yet, it now occurs to me that amidst all their ravages on the female body, there was one good thing they offered: structuring and supporting a stacked spine. I would never want to wear a corset and do not want them to come back into fashion, but I do wonder about sartorial possibilities for improving posture and ameliorating the back pain that plagues twenty-first century America.
What was the last book you read?The last book I read was The Round House by Louise Erdrich. It’s a coming of age mystery novel set on an Ojibwe reservation in North Dakota in the 1980s. I certainly recommend it but must warn that it is troubling—it actually gave me bad dreams! The last nineteenth-century related books I read (there are usual several non-fiction books going at once, right?) were: Words Made Flesh: Nineteenth-Century Deaf Education and the Growth of Deaf Culture by R.A.R. Edwards (2012) and a collection of essays by art historians called Samuel F.B. Morse’s “Gallery of the Louvre” and the Art of Invention (2014). The former is a meticulously researched and well-argued study of American Deaf history, with a strong emphasis on Deaf culture in the pre-Oralist period. The latter is a gorgeously illustrated look at Morse’s final (transatlantic) painting before he threw in the towel on art and moved on to inventing the telegraph.
Which country / decade of the nineteenth century would you like to live in if you could go back in time? This might be blasphemy but I don’t think I’d actually want to live in the nineteenth century. My mother has an old Yiddish proverb: “If everyone could put all their troubles into a room and choose whatever they wanted, everyone would likely take back exactly what they brought in.” As much as I love studying the nineteenth century, it’s very hard for me to desire permanent residency in another historical period. As to places and periods I’d love to visit, well that’s a different story! It’s humble and provincial but I have often wished I could experience my current home, Rochester, New York, during the 1820s. Back then, our city was called “The Young Lion of the West” and for good reason! The Erie Canal had just come through town, the population was exploding, business was booming, and all kinds of fascinating religious movements (the Second Great Awakening, the Church of Latter Day Saints) were emerging here—not to mention the nascent seeds of feminism, utopianism, spiritualism, and abolitionism. Paul E. Johnson’s book A Shopkeeper’s Millennium: Society and Revivals in Rochester, New York, 1815–1837 is a great introduction to Rochester history during this period.
What historical figure would you love to see in the 21st century? Dolley Madison. I am a big fan of the “first First Lady.” What intrigues me about her is the way she leveraged “behind-the-scenes” feminine power and influence to shape young American politics and national culture. She rightly recognized that a government full of unhinged, bickering, and dueling men was both counter-productive and unbecoming. So she engaged in soft but strong coalition building, befriending the wives of congressmen and transforming the White House into a civic and social space (which she decorated impeccably!). She was gregarious and gracious and a fashion maven who managed to push the limits of prim society with her plunging necklines. I would love to live in a twenty-first century with higher regard for warmth, conviviality, and emotional intelligence.