This week, our Hidden Histories seminar examines Archives and Beyond: Strategies for Historical Research in Gender in Design. DHS Ambassador Alexandra Banister catches up with Elin Manker, Assistant Professor in Art History and Visual Studies at Umeå University, Sweden, to further discuss her research.
What is your background and how did you develop an interest in design history?
I have always had an interest in history, a desire to understand what has taken us (or our society) to where it is today and how different actions in society interacts with each other. My interest in the history of design, and specifically about nineteenth century design, deepened when I first read Adrian Forty’s Objects of Desire about twenty years ago. At that time, I had already a Bachelor in Art history but was struck by how little I knew about design history, and yet I was at the time enrolled in education to become a teacher in arts and design for upper secondary school/senior high school. After a couple of years as teacher I wrote my PhD thesis between 2015–2019, at Stockholm University (Sweden), focusing on nineteenth century design.
What does your research focus on?
My research concern interrelations between aesthetic theories and design and craft practices; interrelations between designers and manufacturers; and how designing and crafting is collaborative work.
Your talk is part of a wider seminar series on Hidden Histories: Gender in Design, how does this apply to your work?
At the moment I run a research project that investigates connections between textile, trade and craftsmanship circa 1880-1915 in Sweden, with the textile designer Selma Giöbel (1843–1925) in focus. Giöbel belonged to the first generation of women emancipators. She was considered one of the prominent figures of arts and craft in Sweden and run a successful business selling her own and other’s interior goods. However, she is more or less absent in the history of Swedish design. Why? One reason is that she never set up her own archive or had any relatives/friends/patrons doing so, another is that few of her works has been bought by museums or collecting institutions. My talk thus elaborates on the importance of presence in archives and museums to make both contemporary and historic remembering and research possible.
Please tell us about an interesting piece of design you have discovered as part of your research.
Around 1910 Giöbel made three large rugs, of which only one is held by a museum. One of the other I have located to an art dealer in New York, and this rug is to my mind Giöbel’s most interesting and peculiar design. When the pandemic now seems to diminish, I hope to get the opportunity to go and see it.