The Power of Dress Up: Investigating Children's Perceptions of the Use of Reproduction Period Garments in a Costume-Based Museum Education Program

  • Author / Creator
    Huolt, Stephanie, J
  • This master’s thesis aimed to address the following research question: “How do program participants at the elementary school level perceive wearing reproduction period garments in museum programs and in what ways can the information obtained from this study be used by museum educators to improve education programs offered in their museum spaces?” The research was carried out at the Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village (UCHV), involving the Friends of the Ukrainian Village Society’s (FOUVS) Historic Children’s Program (HCP). This program is a weeklong, day camp that runs in July and August; this project’s research interviews were conducted during the week of August 8-12, 2016. This location and program were chosen because costumed interpretation (trained museum staff dressed in reproduction period garments) is one of the site’s main historical interpretation methods for engaging visitors, students, and educational program participants. The HCP goes one step further and offers children the chance to dress in “pioneer” reproduction garments. Eleven of the eighteen children, between the ages of 6-11, registered in the HCP, agreed to interviews (with the consent of their legal guardians). The children were costumed and first interviewed Monday, and then interviewed again Thursday, to allow them time to adjust and reflect on wearing the garments provided them. The twelve questions asked of the participants aimed to investigate their responses to wearing the reproduction period garments. The data obtained demonstrates the value of reproduction period garments in museum programs. The first finding addressed the kinaesthetic and thermal impacts of wearing reproduction garments. Eight out of eleven participants of participants made comments on either restricted mobility or thermal discomfort while wearing the reproduction garments during the program week. The garments affected the way the children could run and play, and yet only two of the participants stated directly that they would rather wear their own modern-day clothing during the program. Another important finding revolved around garment components and features, and how people may have obtained their clothing in Alberta during the early 1900s. Participants noted a perceived lack of modern components like elastic bands and certain types of straps in the time period they were re-enacting. Though the participants did not always know or understand that, while farmers grew much of their food, they were not entirely self-sufficient and could buy fabric to make their own garments or buy ready-made attire. Through a lack of contextualization on the provided reproduction garments, the participants were quite set on the farmers being completely self-sufficient. Such findings are of importance as this misunderstanding could be an aspect of history discussed in more detail in new or adapted programs. The last finding of significance focused on an engagement with history and culture through reproduction garments. Nine out of eleven participants commented on their provided garments being an important part of their program experience: they felt more like pioneers while wearing them. The questions were drafted to discuss the costumes in greater depth after the participants had had more time to adjust to their own reproduction garments. The interviews on Thursday were when the children gave more details about their experiences. The data collected clearly showed responsiveness to the costume, with nine out of eleven participants feeling positively about their garment experience. The reproduction period garments provided tangible objects that the participants could experience, both kinaesthetically and visually. They reinforced the historical lifestyle information being conveyed to them during the program. Though there was positive evidence for costume’s value, some participants enjoyed the dress process more than others. “Dress-up” is not for everyone, but this project still demonstrates the value of object use and experiential learning in museum spaces. Upon review of the literature pertaining to children’s personal experiences wearing costumes in museum education settings and educational programming, it is apparent that more research could be done on this particular topic to solidify the value of costume-use for children in museum education. Though there were limitations to this project, it could be adapted for use in other museums and with different research groups. Further research on this topic could allow museum educators to effectively integrate reproduction period garments and material culture into their programming, allowing children to learn through experience-based, object use.

  • Subjects / Keywords
  • Graduation date
    Spring 2017
  • Type of Item
  • Degree
    Master of Arts
  • DOI
  • License
    This thesis is made available by the University of Alberta Libraries with permission of the copyright owner solely for non-commercial purposes. This thesis, or any portion thereof, may not otherwise be copied or reproduced without the written consent of the copyright owner, except to the extent permitted by Canadian copyright law.
  • Language
  • Institution
    University of Alberta
  • Degree level
  • Department
  • Specialization
    • Material Culture
  • Supervisor / co-supervisor and their department(s)
  • Examining committee members and their departments
    • Young-Leslie, Heather (Social Sciences and Humanities)
    • Oak, Arlene (Human Ecology)
    • Strickfaden, Megan (Human Ecology)