There are amazingly evocative things in the PRM collections, and none less so than this single moccasin, 1997.19.27:
|PRM 1997.19.27, Franklin's moccasn|
It comes with the wonderful hand-written tag stitched into the wraparound upper that reads,
Brought by my Brother in law xxCaptn Franklin from the Esquimaux Country in 1827 and given to me F. Griffin
(xxSir John Franklin)
& by Miss Griffin given to Mr [possibly Mrs] Gilbert Nov’r 23rd 1828
Captain John Franklin, the Arctic explorer, no less! Over the next few weeks, I’m going to use this object as an example of the many paths one can pursue in material culture research. What does the object itself tell us? Is the Franklin provenance true? Who were F. Griffin and Mrs Gilbert? How did the moccasin get from ‘the Esquimaux Country’ to the Pitt Rivers Museum? What is it decorated with? Why is there just one, and not a pair, and why might that be significant?
Doing history with objects remains a challenge for the historian. Objects pull our attention toward certain things—their materiality, their decoration—and away from others: we have no idea who the woman was who made this moccasin, how Franklin obtained it (if indeed the tag is correct), or what the relationship between them was. We tend to focus on the specific, marvelous thing rather than the big picture of history. Let’s see if we can work in both directions, though, and find out more about this specific, marvelous thing and about how it might tell us things about the big picture of history that the historian’s usual sources—archival documents—don’t. There are all kinds of mysteries here, and the possibility for !EXCITING DISCOVERIES!, so stay tuned! First up: a ‘close read’ of the label sewn into the moccasin. Who were the mysterious F. Griffin, and Mr (or Mrs) Gilbert?