Field Trip Friday: Atlanta in Five Objects

Peachtree Street Signage

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.

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.