Each student in this class will give a three-minute presentation on a ‘found object’ in the Princeton University archives analyzing how it relates to the week’s course themes and readings in precept. For a list of Princeton University’s libraries, click here.

You will ‘bring this object to class’ through a digitized research presentation (you can use SlideShare, Prezie, Zeega, a short film, podcast, animation, a short film, etc.). After you present your object, we will briefly discuss it as a class and use this object to transition into the week’s readings.

If it helps, imagine you are creating an informative presentation to be used by a gallery or museum exhibit focused on American Popular Culture. What do patrons need to know? How can objects illuminate texts or get at new voices or truths not otherwise accessible?

Your presentation will be evaluated on six things:

  • The thoughtfulness and research rigor behind the selection of your found object
  • The clarity of the argument you present in your presentation about the object
  • Your discussion of why the object is historically valuable and your ability to historically contextualize the object
  • Connections to specific course themes from readings and discussion that help support your argument (be specific, using quotes and citations whenever possible)
  • The overall quality of your research, writing, and presentation
  • Staying under the three-minute time limit – this is an exercise in concision! You will be timed and it is expected that you will have practiced this.

Tips for a successful project:

  • Research! Whatever object and digital medium you choose, your project needs be grounded in original research.
  • Make a clear, specific, debatable argument, supported by evidence.
  • Choose a presentation medium that enhances your argument and message.
  • Engage with course themes. Your project should demonstrate deep thinking about major themes from the weekly readings.
  • Feel free to be creative.
  • Be concise.

Questions to think about when working with your object:

  • What is this?
  • What is it made of?
  • Why does it look the way it does?
  • Who made it? When and how? And why? What was the object’s purpose? Inquiry can then dig much deeper, into the realm of cultural values, cultural assumptions (our own and those of the object’s original makers and users), and symbolic meanings.
  • How does the object activate your 5 senses? What qualities does it have that makes your body react to it that way?
  • Consider the object’s design, creation, distribution, provenance, and lineage.
  • Consider the object’s value (economically, spiritually, culturally, etc.).
  • How and why did this object end up at our school?
  • What can objects reveal about kinship networks, migration, labor, leisure, environmental change, or the history of capitalism? How do race, gender, sexuality, class, or religion come into play?

Important note: Most objects are housed in a special climate-controlled archival environment to prevent deterioration. You will most likely need to make an appointment with a curator to see an object and you will need to plan ahead in case your object is housed off-site. If that is the case, you will need to request a storage transfer.

Want to read examples?


Rhae Lynn Barnes is an Assistant Professor of American Cultural History at Princeton University (2018-) and President of the Andrew W. Mellon Society of Fellows in Critical Bibliography. She is the co-founder and C.E.O. of U.S. History Scene and an Executive Advisor to the documentary series "Reconstruction: America After the Civil War" (now streaming PBS, 2019).

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