Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Every Object Tells a Story

Although I usually find business history more fascinating than military history, I'm making a point of seeing "The Civil War in 50 Objects" at Manhattan's New-York Historical Society before the exhibit closes on September 1. There's a companion book, too--hooray.

Whether it's company history or personal history, relating history through objects is a long-standing idea that is much in vogue. And why not? Every object radiates history. People made that object; people used it; people saved it for a reason. With luck, an archivist formally catalogued it. I've been known to squeal when CorporateHistory.net unearths an object that illustrates a client's story in a way that nothing else can. A few that come to mind:
  • a 1960s candy striper uniform for our Northwest Community Hospital 50-year history book; 
  • a battered little cabinet containing delicate watch springs for CorporateHistory.net's Sandvik US history; 
  • one of the original glass bottles that was used, sanitized, and reused hundreds of times in the 1920s for Clorox liquid bleach. (Those bottles were recycled, too--The Clorox Company has been green since 1913.)
Draft Wheel, ca. 1863. New-York Historical Society,
Gift of Frederic C. Wagner.
Even to read a short list of objects in the NYHS exhibit is enough to evoke a range of emotions: "A soldier’s diary with the pencil still attached, John Brown’s pike, the Emancipation Proclamation, a Confederate Palmetto flag, and the leaves from Abraham Lincoln’s bier." Pictured here (with thanks to the NYHS) is a draft wheel used in conscription.

What objects would go into your organization's history?