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How Objects Speak

Some of the more interesting classes that draw upon the rich collections of Shields Library over the years are those that study material culture. Professors in American Studies, Community Development, Sociology, Anthropology,  the History of Science, and University Writing frequently send their students to library resources to trace the changing interaction between objects and society. Student’s examining technologies of everyday life, such as eyeglasses, cell phone’s, or hair dryers draw upon the library’s primary and secondary literatures to reconstruct the social worlds through which these objects pass. The term papers the students write testify to the complex relations that surround things, and in the process of writing, students often find that it is in the social gathering that the object comes to life.

Peter Miller, in his recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, “How Objects Speak” traces the rise of interest in study of material culture and examines its contemporary appeal.

Milk Jar
From Miller’s article “How Objects Speak” Chronicle of Higher Education. 8/11/2014
Item: milk can
Material: Aluminum
Size: Diameter 32 cm, height of the main part 51 cm, and the upper part 15 cm.
Date: 1940?
Location: Warsaw, Poland.

Peter Miller has also gathered recent writing on material culture studies in his new edited book:
Cultural histories of the material world Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 2013. See: Shields Library HM621 .C848 2013. It’s a good place to start, if one is interested in engaging the archaeology of the present.

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