Old and New
Last Wednesday I photographed several items that will be included in the exhibition An American Turning Point: The Civil War in Virginia, which opens on February 4 at the VHS. The photo shoot included several flags and paintings that just returned from conservation, a sewing machine, a chair, and a pair of boots, among other things.
My colleague Jamie Davis helped me place the items on a white backdrop. In an effort not to mar the paper, we removed our shoes before walking on it. We unpacked the Civil War–era boots and started to set them—a task that proved much more difficult than I had anticipated. How many hours have I spent shopping for shoes online? I really ought to remember how to make them look good. While arranging and rearranging, I was struck by how similar these old boots were to the ones that Jamie had just taken off of his feet. Not only were they close in size, but the style and construction of the shoes were also not that different. There they were . . . old and new . . . right next to one another. I had to take a picture.
One hundred and fifty years of boot evolution, and not much has changed. I was surprised. Maybe I shouldn’t have been, but think about all that has changed. The wearer of those boots lived in a completely different world than the one we live in today. We have hybrids, not horses; mini-skirts, not hoop skirts; an African American president, not slavery. What marvelous advances we have made! Comparing the new to the old makes me really appreciate how far we’ve come. And don’t worry, the surface similarities don’t have me fooled. I wouldn’t want to walk a mile in those old boots for anything.
Meg Eastman is the digital collections manager at the Virginia Historical Society