Students from the Department of History of UM have contributed to ThingsThatTalk.net, an interdisciplinary digital humanities platform that explores the lives of objects. The platform facilitates storytelling by giving authors the basic visual tools they need to effectively narrate an object in all its dimensions. Three group projects from the course Western Civilizations II (taught by prof. Mario Cams) were selected for publication by the platform’s editors: an expensive box with a portrait of Napoleon, a Zippo lighter from the Vietnam War, and an Enlightenment-era French wig holder with surprising connections to China.
With this, students contribute to a global archive of everyday things or objects, all material expressions of diverse human experiences, which include historical experiences. Things and physical objects outlast us, and we rely on them to tell our stories when we are gone. By questioning material objects, students gain a hands-on and bottom-up understanding of objects from the past. This approach complements the more traditional top-down history: instead of big stories about nations, rulers, war, and peace, objects tell us concrete stories of connections between individuals and places, enabling us to better understand everyday experiences from the past.