Refrangible Episode One: “Home Front” Efforts Between WWII and COVID-19 Crises

By Dr. Sarah Anne Carter, CDMC Visiting Executive Director

logo for episode 1 of refrangible podcast showing a WWII poster on the sides of a cube.

How do people behave, act, and contribute with top-down guidance during times of struggle and strife? The Center for Design and Material Culture’s new podcast, Refrangible, opens with a closer look at collective responsibility during a national crisis.

Host Gianofer Fields and co-producer Jonah Chester examine the Westinghouse series “Health for Victory” booklets, published as part of the U.S. government’s World War II-era National Wartime Nutrition Program and intended to help housewives make the most of their food rations. They draw on the voices of those who lived through this period, as well as scholars who study public health and nutrition, the history of the American home and the “American Dream,” and the cultural life of the 1940s.

“The Home Front” asks listeners to consider what victory looked like in the homes and lunch pails and on the bodies of ordinary people, offering a glimpse into how Americans conceived of their shared identity and posing questions for how they approach that same opportunity today amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Guests include:

  • Dr. A. R. Ruiz, Associate Director for Research in the Epistemic Analytics lab at the Wisconsin Center for Education Research and a fellow in the Department of Medical History and Bioethics at UW–Madison. He is the author of Eating to Learn, Learning to Eat: The Origins of School Lunch in the United States, as well as numerous articles on the history of food, nutrition, and health; quantitative ethnography and digital humanities; and STEM and medical education.
  • Dr. Marina Moskowitz, the Lynn and Gary Mecklenburg Chair in Textiles, Material Culture, and Design in the School of Human Ecology at UW–Madison and author of numerous books and articles, including Standard of Living: The Measure of the Middle Class in Modern America (Johns Hopkins Press).
  • Sarah Creviston Lee, author, historian, and “vintage foodie” specializing in World War II-era material culture, as well as host of the podcast Victory Kitchen, in which she “delves into WWII cookbooks, recipes and menu plans to find out how our grandmas got their food to fight for freedom.”
  • Donna Smith and Irma Phillips, 91- and 95-year-old women, respectively, who graciously share their personal stories about life on the home front during World War II.

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Refrangible is a podcast from the Center for Design and Material Culture, hosted by the Center’s Producer-in-Residence, Gianofer Fields. Each episode explores the stuff of everyday life and what it tells us about ourselves, our world, and our values. From keepsakes to clutter, from tools to trash, the things we make, use, and save carry stories within them. Tune in for a closer look at the material traces of our past and what they might inspire for our shared future, and view all episodes here.