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Radio Chipstone: Object Lessons

Victoria and Albert Museum, B.5:1 to 5-2009. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
Educational specimen box, for the education of children, assembled in England, mahogany, ca. 1850.
Part One

Contributor Gianofer Fields’ mission on Lake Effect has been to invite you to take a second look at the things you choose to keep near. That's the basis of "material culture" — its purpose is not to look at the history of objects but rather to look at history through objects.

Material culture might seem like a new thing, but object lessons have been around since the 1800s. Sarah Anne Carter is a visiting scholar at The School of Human Ecology University of Wisconsin-Madison. She’s also the author of Object Lessons: How Nineteenth-century Americans Learned to Make Sense of the Material World.

In this edition of Radio Chipstone, Carter and Fields talk about the history of object lessons and how it helped school age children develop the ability to make sense of the world:

Part Two

The first part of Object Lessons went into the basics of material culture. Object lessons were used to teach children how to think and understand the world around them by engaging with material things. In part two, contributor Gianofer Fields and material culture scholar Sarah Anne Carter discuss how object lessons have had a historically negative impact when used on children.

In the late 19th Century, object lessons were used to support the notions that African American and Native American students needed to be taught how to work and how to think according to Carter. The students were learning through object method while living as object lessons themselves.

"These incredibly racist notions were really at the foundation for these schools that were on the one hand trying to educate these students, but on the other hand to educate them for particular social roles they believed would be beneficial for society," says Carter.

In this final edition of Radio Chipstone, Fields and Carter talk about how 19th century schools for Native and African Americans - like the Tuskegee Institute - took the general principles of object lessons and applied them to people:

Material culture contributor Gianofer Fields with Sarah Anne Carter, material culture scholar and author (part two).