After School

History in Household Objects

How much history do you have in your home? Does your family have one of the objects shown here — tucked away in a closet or stowed in the cellar? At one time, many families had at least one of these objects. Now, they are history!

Activities

movie camera armchair
hanger ike plate
fondue stereo

Still wondering what happened to these artifacts of pre-digital America? They're on the Web, at EDSITEment. Just click the At Home in the Heartland Online link and you'll find them in the section called At Home in a House Subdivided, which takes a look at life in Illinois since 1950. But before you go online, get together with a parent or grandparent to talk about these objects and what family life was like way back when.

First, ask your family member to identify each object and tell you what decade it comes from. Write his or her answers into the chart, then use the "Talking Points" to find out more about each object. Finally, work together to pick two objects that you would put into a museum of family life in the '80s and '90s, and write their names into the chart.

Talk about these objects, too, and on a separate piece of paper, write a description of each object that includes a short explanation of its historical significance. When you've finished, share your "household history" with that of your friends.

Then, admit it: historical research can be fun!

Talking Points

Print out the PDF chart to fill in, or conduct an informal discussion.

For each household object, ask:

  1. How was the object used by families? When was it used -- on special occasions or everyday? During family times or by individual family members? Did it say something about the character of the family and how they spent time together?
  2. Who used the object? Who made the decision to buy it? Was it something that "belonged" to everyone, or was it used only by certain family members -- for example, by kids more than parents, or by fathers more than mothers? Was it an object that marked one's role in the family?
  3. Was there any particular status associated with the object? Was it the sign of a certain lifestyle or social attitude? Would you be likely to see it in a "traditional" household, a "modern" household, a "well-to-do" household?
  4. Was it considered a "hi-tech" object in its day? What kinds of new technologies were coming into the home then? What role did they play in the home? Were they labor-saving devices? sources of leisure time entertainment? part of the decor that makes a house a home?

1950s

1960s

1970s

1980s

1990s

         
         

Objects: Movie camera, 1955; "Danish Modern" armchair, c. 1960; Macramé plant hanger, c. 1975; Eisenhower commemorative plate, c. 1954; Fondue pot,