Includes the site banner and navigation links, as well as partial images of several completed crafts. "Thank you to our workshop and tutorial participants for sending in photos of their Crafting Communities projects!"

Crafting Communities

Reviewed by:
Anna Flinchbaugh, PhD Student
University of Southern California

In the spring of 2020, when many felt untethered by the COVID-19 pandemic, Crafting Communities emerged to address this alienation by “enabling hands-on learning in a hands-off context” within the field of Victorian material culture, as the site notes. From a pilot program of two online events, the project has expanded to comprise further roundtables and online discussions, craft workshops and tutorials, an online exhibition, a podcast, and additional written resources. More than two years on, the site continues to provide a vibrant home for resources and discussions about Victorian material culture.

The litany of components which make up Crafting Communities comprise a combination of digital resources, online events, and documentation to support offline crafting. The online events might be thought of as Crafting Communities’ catalyst and core. Unfortunately, recordings of these are not included; the Events page simply provides a list of past and future offerings. However, indirect documentation exists in many of the site’s other components. Several of the tutorials on the Create page, including hair art and broderie anglaise (a needlework technique featuring cut-out eyelets), were originally presented in real-time workshops. All of the objects in the Victorian Things online exhibition (found via the Learn page), were discussed first in either a roundtable discussion or an episode of the Victorian Samplings podcast (also located on the Learn page). Someone interested in hair art might, therefore, lament having missed the real-time workshops held in 2020, but still find images of contemporary projects, detailed instructions on how to create their own works, and a thoroughly described historical object on various pages across the site.

This complex interweaving and productive redundancy of content makes Crafting Communities a richly multisensory, multimodal project. Varied forms of engagement are persistently integrated within the individual site components. For instance,  citations within  the object records in Victorian Things (an online exhibition) reference not only “Suggested Reading” but also “Selected Viewing” and “Selected Listening.” Within the craft tutorials, images, written descriptions, and videos overlap to create clear and accessible instructions for makers with a wide range of experience and confidence levels. Slightly frustratingly, the videos,while hosted on YouTube, must be accessed through the individual tutorials rather than  listed together on the Crafting Communities YouTube page.

Text titled “Activity 3: Calling card page” followed by a four panel instructional illustration. The panels have teal borders and feature a black and white hand holding a fancy pen. The introduction to the activity reads: “Victorians often left calling cards for their hosts as mementos of social visits (people would display trays full of calling cards as a measure of their social circle). Calling cards were also pasted into scrapbooks. Alternatively, scrapbookers would trace shapes onto a page and have friends and family sign their names in the shapes to make them look like calling cards.” This is followed by a list of materials and five steps. The materials are: blank book, pencil and black pen, scissors, cut out calling card from handout (or business card/credit card). The steps are: 1. Place your card anywhere on the blank page and trace around it in pencil. 2. Pick up your card and place it again in a way that overlaps with the existing trace. 3. Repeat until your page is full of overlapping calling card shapes. 4. Outline with pen. 5. Ask your friends and family to sign a “calling card”!
A section of the Victorian Scrapbooking online tutorial created by Ruth Ormiston

For all the thoughtful ways in which information is duplicated and connected, the largest drawback of Crafting Communities is that the site has limited navigation capabilities. Adding features such as filtering the list of events by type, and linking directly from an object record to the relevant podcast episode would considerably reduce the scrolling currently required. Furthermore, there is a gallery of work submitted  by participants in the workshops and tutorials, with no identifying information accompanying the images. In short, the current site navigation is intuitive, but not efficient.

With its emphasis on richness of connectivity over technological innovation, Crafting Communities is perhaps better understood as a community to join than a resource to draw upon, aimed at a broad range of interests. Much of the content (especially the Victorian Samplings podcast) emphasizes research methodologies and pedagogy, making it valuable for researchers and educators within and beyond Victorian studies. With its concise presentation of information and extensive links to further resources, the Victorian Things online exhibition could provide a helpful starting point for student projects. Finally, the workshops and craft tutorials are appealing to anyone who enjoys making, whether within an academic context or not.

Twelve labeled thumbnail images arranged in a grid on a white background. The objects shown are: William Moon's "Reading for the Blind" Primer, Miniature Portrait of Elizabeth Siddall, Charlotte Brontё’s “Little Book”, J. M. Whistler's "The Fleet: Monitors", Mrs. Alexander's Mark; The "Ladies Carpet", Hannah Claus's "interlacings", The Brontë Family's Broken Hair Bracelet, Kate Greenaway's Design for Nursery Wallpaper, Clemence Housman's "The Were-Wolf", Amelia Wood's Conversation Tube & Pouch, and William Macready & Charles Dickens's Scrap Screen.
Objects in the Victorian Things online exhibition

Crafting Communities is funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. Reflecting the diverse community supported by the project, organizers from three Canadian universities have recruited a wide range of contributors, including contemporary artists, librarians, and undergraduate students as well as established academics. As the project continues to grow (the second podcast season began in late July), it seems likely that the network woven by Crafting Communities will become still more varied and vibrant.  

Art and Obsolescence Podcast

Reviewed by:
Michalle Gould, Librarian
Sage Hill School

"Art & Obsolescence" is written in white text on a purple square. Beneath is text that reads "36 episodes. Conversations with artists, collectors, and professionals shaping the past, present, and future of art and technology."
Art & Obsolescence podcast logo

The Art and Obsolescence Podcast describes itself as “Conversations with artists, collectors, and professionals shaping the past, present, and future of art and technology.” The podcast presents the experiences and thoughts of each interviewee about the specific challenges and rewards involved in making and preserving time-based and ephemeral artwork. These types of new media are more vulnerable to breakdowns in the presentation and preservation of the material, because of the more rapid development of technology than traditional media like sculpture, drawing, and painting. (Whether the comparative stability of those mediums is something of an illusion might make for an interesting episode in itself.) The following review is based on a sampling of several podcast episodes and their transcripts.

Host Ben Fino-Radin does an impressive job of formulating questions to draw out the thoughts of the artists, curators, technicians, gallerists, collectors, and other guests working in the field. Fino-Radin maintains the flow of the conversation without ever taking the focus off the person being interviewed. A standout episode for this reviewer was Episode 35, with Richard Bloes, who has served as an AV technician at the Whitney Museum of American Art for over 41 years, and who recounted stories about the challenges involved in working with time-based media and how the field has changed over the years. 

The podcast conversations presuppose a familiarity with the institutions, artists, and genre of art under discussion, suggesting that the intended audience includes listeners who hold a strong pre-existing interest in contemporary art. While the intersection of art and technology is increasingly of general interest, the focus of the podcast is time-based media art, a more niche topic. However, the quality of the interviews expands the likely listenership to those interested in contemporary art in general. The resource is free and easy to access through its website, Spotify, or Apple podcasts. Listeners will find the transcript option helpful as a way to return to quotes or anecdotes that interest them, and art history researchers will appreciate the ease of quoting interviewees through the transcripts as well.

The image is a screen capture from the podcast's website, showing a list of links relevant to the episode, and a brief description of the podcast.
Each podcast episode features a list of links to relevant topics discussed in the episode.

The podcast’s website may strike viewers as somewhat under-designed: the homepage is simple in appearance and includes little beyond links to the episodes, the podcast’s social media pages, a bio of the host, and a donation link. However, the page for each individual episode does include a selection of useful links. The podcast’s homepage could be improved by adding some context about the format under discussion – perhaps a brief history and timeline of time-based media and links to major events or exhibitions going on in recent years. Such additions could draw in casual listeners whose interest in the art form becomes piqued by the podcast. While experimenting with media may be beyond the scope of the podcast, this reviewer was curious about whether the presentation of the podcast could reflect the theme of obsolescence and technological experimentation. However, that is not the stated focus of the project, and perhaps shows the effectiveness of the podcast in expanding a listener’s interest in experimental, time-based art. All in all, Art and Obsolescence accomplishes what it sets out to do: provide interesting discussions with interesting people engaged in a very specific art form, and it does this very well.


Reviewed by:
Freyja T. Catton, Independent Consultant
Wordeater Consulting

Screenshot of the PodcastRE website, with light blue text on a dark teal background.
A screenshot from the PodcastRE homepage

PodcastRE is an interface resource to preserve podcasts and collect links and metadata records. Website users can search the database, analyze the metadata using visualization tools, and stream the audio if the original feed is still available online. PodcastRe(search) is founded and directed by Dr. Jeremy Morris of University of Wisconsin Madison and funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

The website is free and accessible by web browser. Comparable podcast directory services include proprietary services such as Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Amazon, or Pandora. Comparable free services include PodBean, Podchaser, iHeartRadio, and Podcast Index. PodcastRE stands apart from these services with its goal of archiving podcasts for researchers of the future, rather than marketing. PodcastRE has a much longer-term approach to data and access, and researchers requiring more in-depth information about a podcast can make an account to access original files. There is a contact form for users if they want to add to the collection or obtain further information.

Branding is consistent and clean with teal and white colors throughout. The header and footer in the background have vertical bars of different lengths and heights, indicating digital sound waves. The home page has a search bar in the middle of the page, and below that from left to right are the advanced search, keyword cloud visualization, and the term frequency line graph buttons.

PodcastRE is intuitive and easy to navigate. The basic search query is prominent on the home page and resembles a Google search. The advanced search resembles a library catalogue search, where users can type in their keywords and use dropdown menus to refine the search. Searchable fields are All Fields, Author, Keywords, Categories, Description, Title, and Podcast Source. A basic search for “art” returned 75,734 results, with thirty per page. Each result has an image on the far left, with the podcast title and publisher to the right of the image. The earliest and most recent episodes for each podcast are listed, followed by teaser text descriptions for each podcast. In combination, this gives a useful overview of each podcast.

A screenshot of the PodcastRE database showing search results for a basic search for the term "art."
Results of a basic search for “art”.

The first thirty results showed publication dates ranging from 2011 to 2022 with a range of subjects and creators– from artists to critics, art history stories, one French-language podcast, and one business podcast. “Search within these results” adds the advanced search on top of the existing search. Clicking on one result leads to a new page with a list of episodes for that podcast, where users can click to listen on PodcastRE. Clicking on the podcast title takes you to the podcast’s original website.

A screenshot of a word cloud visualization using keywords on PodcastRE. Colorful text appears underneath the heading "Associated Keywords." The word "Podcast" is shown in large black type.
Word Cloud visualization for “art.” All Keywords are selected, but Podcast Keywords and Episode Keywords are options.

PodcastRE has visualization tools to generate word clouds and keyword line graphs. Word clouds might be used to help determine what metadata is most common for each topic, and the line graph is an interesting way to discover very old resources, such as an “art podcast” from 1996!

A line graph visualization for Keywords Over Time on PodcastRE. The line spikes between the years 2018 and 2020.
Line graph visualization for Keywords Over Time for the search terms “podcast” and “art”. The line is flat between 1956 and 2006 before it spikes to six-digit figures in 2018 and again in 2020.

It would be difficult to access all this information in any other format, and other database platforms typically present a paywall or a lower quality of data. PodcastRE seems well organized and well prepared for the inevitable increase in data to manage. A web accessibility test reported no alt text was provided, form labels were missing, there were multiple instances of low color contrasts, and the home page lacked page structuring. These are relatively simple design adjustments to implement and would help improve the long-term accessibility of the database. PodcastRE stands as a great resource for people who are looking for subject-specific podcasts or those interested in the history of podcasts in general.