In Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried characters are revealed and humanized through the objects they carried on them as they trudged through VietNam. It is easy to think that in our modern consumerist culture we are unique in being defined by our possessions as well- logos on shirts, pants, phones.
But is this really new?
Indiana University explores this idea in their exhibit-“Thoughts, Things, and Theories-What is Culture?” at Mathers Museum of Culture open Tuesday through Friday now through December 2017.
The installation features commonplace artifacts such as a 1967 suburban American home, juxtaposed with a dwelling compound from contemporaneous Nigeria inviting viewers to contemplate how our “possessions” fulfill a practical as well as cultural role, tying us to a larger “process” or narrative.
The exhibit tells this story through the phases of life, displaying cultural artifacts such as “Birth and Infancy” and culminating in “Death and Afterlife,” with viewers encouraged to think, discuss, and question every step of the way.
According to their website, “culture is a complicated topic because individual practices from one region or upbringing to another vary greatly, but it’s also a simple one-despite these differences, all cultures are structured around universal needs to fulfill.”
Teachers of World History or Humanities will find this article especially interesting and could likely spark an interesting discussion about what items help explain our culture. I could imagine an especially creative teacher to create an activity where students create their own “museum” either actually in the classroom or in text or graphic form that is inspired by the topics raised in this exhibit.
Questions for Discussion
- What is culture?
- What are some of the countries represented in Indiana University’s exhibit?
- In the “Childhood” exhibit, toys were used to help prepare children for adult roles and responsibilities-is this still the case? What are some examples?
- A great question from the article,” When does a person cease being a child and begin an adult life?”
- Which of your favorite possessions do you think that your “peers” in other parts of the world also have? Which of your possessions do you think they don’t have?
- How would you create a similar exhibition?
- What else does this inspire you to “dream, learn,do?”