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Michelle Jackson

History of Design and Curatorial Studies (MA) / Michelle Jackson


Springs of Salvation: Theoretical and Literary Readings of Glassware from Bohemian Spas

The offerings of spa resorts, or Kurorte, in Bohemia during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries have been addressed from many different perspectives. Architectural history, period literature, and geographic surveys all comprise the historiography of the spa and its ubiquity in the popular conception of physical and mental health for the upper classes in Central Europe and abroad. Utilitarian glassware associated with the spa and sanatorium experience rarely appears in exhibition catalogues as an object of interpretive study. Rather, the available scholarship often focuses solely on connoisseurship, ignoring the value of a material culture interpretation.

My thesis addresses the experience of the spa/sanatorium from an interdisciplinary perspective involving both the interpretive study of this specialized glassware and a focused literary and theoretical analysis. In order to explore these objects as noteworthy mediators of the curing process, I discuss glassware as a physical emblem of German and Bohemian material culture. To enrich my formal analysis and contextual placement of the glassware, I examine the role of spa and souvenir glasses made during the Biedermeier and late-nineteenth century periods through the lens of Romantic portrayals of the Central European landscape in fairy tales by Adalbert Stifter as well as Thomas Mann’s portrayals of the sanatorium in early-twentieth century German literature. By combining methodologies, I aim to analyze the role of spa glasses and cups beyond basic surface appraisal; this project situates glass objects in the physical and metaphysical realms of the Bohemian region and its literary imagination.

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