This activity is intended for grade levels 6-12, but learners of all ages are welcome!
Our City in 50 Objects
Atlanta in 50 Objects is a collection of important stories and themes suggested by members of the Atlanta community. From Civil War to Civil Rights, Coca-Cola to Chick-fil-A, Martin Luther King, Jr. to Hank Aaron, Atlantans selected a range of pop culture, corporations, public spaces, sports moments, and more to represent their history.
You might be thinking, that’s a lot of stories to tell in just 50 objects.
And you’d be right.
What is an Object?
An object is a physical material—something you can touch—that helps to tell a story.
Storytelling is central to a museum, and objects help us do that. Just think—have you ever been to a museum with nothing in it? We can learn a lot about the past using objects: how the people who came before us lived, worked, and played.
Here’s an example:
What can this microphone tell us about the past?
It helps us learn about how people communicated in the past! It teaches us about how technology has changed, too. Now, we have cell phones in our pocket and can check the news when we want. In the past, people had to tune in to the radio at certain times during the day to learn what was happening in the world.
Objects don’t have to be just old books, portraits, pottery, or other things that we consider “old.” An important part of museum collecting is thinking about the everyday objects we use in our lives that define what it means to live in our time.
Think about how important iPhones are to our lives right now. Though we probably don’t think of that as something that should go in a museum, fifty years from now, won’t people living in 2070 need to understand our cell phones to understand how we connect, work, and communicate with one another?
How do Objects help us tell stories?
Though museums seem to have a lot of stuff out on display, there’s usually a whole lot more in collections storage. Generally, museums only have a small percentage of their objects on display at any one time.
Why do you think museums only display a few of their objects at a time?
Think of it this way: If you displayed every single photograph in your house on one wall all at one time, that would be a lot to look at, right? Someone who was looking at your wall might feel overwhelmed or miss a photo that’s really important at that moment.
Museums are the same way. Instead of trying to tell a bunch of stories all at once using a lot of objects, we select a few stories at a time to tell through groups of objects in exhibitions.
Exhibitions tell stories using a collection of objects displayed together.
It can be tough to decide what goes into that collection of objects. Museums collect a wide variety of objects that can be used to tell different stories about their communities, and there’s no way that all those objects can be displayed at one time.
That’s part of what makes Atlanta in 50 Objects such a fun exercise for Atlanta History Center—we got to share some of Atlanta’s iconic objects alongside more everyday items, all with the goal of telling the story of our bustling, diverse, and fast-moving home base.
Now it’s your turn! Complete the three activities below and see what objects shape your world. And then open the last slide to see what objects we found!
50 Objects. Activites.
Now it’s your turn to explore! We invite you on a virtual visit of Atlanta in 50 Objects.
As we all spend more time at home, we want to know: what makes your home truly feel like home?
Look around. What photos, furniture, music, smells, people, and memories make the place that you call home special and unique to you? What stories can these objects tell about you, your friends, or your family?
Think about the different types of objects and make a list. Are there some things you listed that are special to your story and your home?
Now that you’re an expert on objects and exhibitions, it’s time to make your own! Here’s how:
- Choose five stories that make your home special, and select one object for each that you think tells those stories the best. You can do this on your own or ask family members to help you think of objects. Maybe they have a new idea!
- Photograph your objects.
- Label your objects! Write down the name of the object, where it came from, and, if you can find out, the year it was made, or that it became part of your home. We have a handy template if you would like it!
- Next, write down the story about why each object is important. Explain why it is special to you and your house. See our example below if you get stuck!
- Give your exhibition a title! Ours is called My House in 5 Objects
Object 1: Sugar
- Type of object: Cat
- Date the object was made, or that it became part of your home: 2005
- Tell a story that goes with the object: Sugar is my roommate’s cat. She’s very old but doesn’t act her age. When we come home in the afternoons, Sugar always comes to the door to greet us. Sometimes she seems more like a dog than a cat. Whenever we eat dinner, Sugar is always at the table ready to catch any scraps. He’s an important part of our home.
Object 2: Coffee mug
- Type of object: Ceramic coffee mug
- Date the object was made, or that it became part of my home: 2016
- Tell a story that goes with the object: My family always jokes that I can never finish a full cup of coffee, so I bought this tiny mug from a student art sale at the University of South Carolina in 2016. It is made of Carolina clay that was sourced from my hometown. Since buying it, I have moved houses three times and now live in a different state. Now, when I drink my tiny cup of coffee each morning, I am reminded of my family and the place I grew up.
Object 3: Sugar
- Type of object: Book
- Date the object was made, or that it became part of your home: circa 2000
- Tell a story that goes with the object: Junie B. Jones books were my favorite when I was a kid, and they helped me learn how to read. I remember that we used to read them as a class in elementary school. Now, I still love to read, though I read much more boring books.
- Type of object: Metal spoon with decorative handle
- Date the object was made, or that it came into your home: 2015
- Tell a story that goes with the object: This is a teaspoon from Bandstand Tearoom in Leamington Spa, England. I lived in Leamington for a year and went to the tearoom often. I purchased this spoon on my last visit before moving back to America. It is an excellent reminder of the adventures I had with new friends.
Object 5: Graduation tassel
- Type of object: Textile
- Date the object was made, or that it became part of your home: 2017
- Tell a story that goes with the object: I received this tassel when graduating from college. For me, graduating from college was even more special because I got to go to the same school that both my dad and uncle went to. It is special that we all share the same alma mater.
You’ve done it! Brilliant. Now all that’s left is to share your museum with the world. With an adult’s permission, share your exhibitions on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram with the hashtag #atlantahistorycenterathome.