Tangible Things: Making History through Objects

Paperback | February 26, 2015

byLaurel Thatcher Ulrich, Ivan Gaskell, Sara Schechner

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In a world obsessed with the virtual, tangible things are once again making history. Tangible Things invites readers to look closely at the things around them, ordinary things like the food on their plate and extraordinary things like the transit of planets across the sky. It argues thatalmost any material thing, when examined closely, can be a link beween present and past.The authors of this book pulled an astonishing array of materials out of storage - from a pencil manufactured by Henry David Thoreau to a bracelet made from iridescent beetles - in a wide range of Harvard University collections to mount an innovative exhibition alongside a new general educationcourse. The exhibition challenged the rigid distinctions between history, anthropology, science, and the arts. It showed that object-centered inquiry inevitably leads to a questioning of categories within and beyond history.Tangible Things is both an introduction to the range and scope of Harvard's remarkable collections and an invitation to reassess collections of all sorts, including those that reside in the bottom drawers or attics of people's houses. It interrogates the nineteenth-century categories that stilldivide art museums from science museums and historical collections from anthropological displays and that assume history is made only from written documents. Although it builds on a larger discussion among specialists, it makes its arguments through case studies, hoping to simultaneously entertainand inspire. The twenty case studies take us from the Galapagos Islands to India and from a third-century Egyptian papyrus fragment to a board game based on the twentieth-century comic strip "Dagwood and Blondie." A companion website catalogs the more than two hundred objects in the original exhibition and suggests ways in which the principles outlined in the book might change the way people understand the tangible things that surround them.

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In a world obsessed with the virtual, tangible things are once again making history. Tangible Things invites readers to look closely at the things around them, ordinary things like the food on their plate and extraordinary things like the transit of planets across the sky. It argues thatalmost any material thing, when examined closely,...

Laurel Thatcher Ulrich taught for fifteen years at University of New Hampshire before moving to Harvard in 1995. She is the author of many books and articles on early American history including A Midwife's Tale, which won the Pulitzer Prize for history in 1991, and The Age of Homespun: Objects and Stories in the Creation of an American...

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Format:PaperbackDimensions:280 pages, 10 × 7 × 0.68 inPublished:February 26, 2015Publisher:Oxford University PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:019938228X

ISBN - 13:9780199382286

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Table of Contents

PrefaceIntroduction: Thinking with Things1. Things in Place1. Natural HistorySay it with Flowers: An Orchid Specimen and a Watercolor Drawing2. Archaeology and AnthropologyA Surface Find in the Semitic Museum: A Roman Four-Handled Glass Jar3. Books and ManuscriptsPlato from the Sharp-Nosed Trash4. ArtSet in Stone: A Limestone Mold for Casting Openwork Ornaments5. Science and MedicinePolitical Chemistry6. HistoryA Knockabout Dress2. Things UnplacedMemorandums of a CottageAn Enchanted Galapagos Tortoise Shell Marked "Ship Abigail"Pointing Fingers: A Carved Spoon, Human HandAn Errant TortillaExotic Opulence: An Iridescent Beetle OrnamentTracking Blondie: Blondie Goes to Leisureland3. Things Out of PlaceA Palette and the Psychology of VisionA Blue BirdPlows and Swords: The Artemas Ward Plow in the Semitic MuseumNature or Culture? A Carved Helmeted Hornbill Skull4. Things in Stories-Stories in ThingsObjects as PortalsThe MessageTransits of VenusChanging Stories about American IndiansAppendix: Glossary of Harvard CollectionsPhoto Essay: Unexpected Discoveries: the Joy of Object Photography