Category Archives: Reading Things

Blog Post #7 The Voyage of the Mimi


Reading Neal Postman's book Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business revealed a new perspective about learning and research. Postman disparages multi modal learning models, lamenting the loss of real discourse due to the advent of technology. Postman contends that the telegraph heralded the "now...this" mentality. Information available instantly limits the value of discourse and communication. I wonder what Postman would think about this class? Certainly Postman could not have foreseen the impact of what he quaintly calls micro-computers on the education system, but he did fear that the incursion of television into the education system was turning the classroom into commercialized show business. One of the extravagances that he discusses in his book is the government funded PBS series "The Voyage of the Mimi." This bloated-budget attempt at televising education left a bad taste in Postman's mouth. In his view, learning about the migration patterns and songs of the humpback whale was a waste of brain power. After all what of any value at all could be learned by tracking nautical patterns and singing whales on a boat? American students were missing out on the heavy-hitting typographic discourse that promoted genuine critical thinking skills, the kind of discourse thought of and taught by crotchety old white men. What Postman failed to imagine was what could be learned by following, recording, describing, and sharing the patterns of animals like the whales. We have discovered more about our world, about our planet. We have learned that we have an impact on others beyond the tip of our nose,or beyond our block, or our little town.http://

New ways of learning exist today than in the mid eighties when Postman was writing. People have more access to many different kinds of education. The multi modal exposition that we are experimenting with in this class is a prime example. The medium in which our work lives has totally changed. Postman's nostalgia for print is just that and nothing more. Yes there are few things better than the crisp smell of a new book, but life is bigger than the black and white words on a page.  By daring to live and learn in the digital age we see how our actions can affect the world. News now sources immediately from events through tweets and smart phone video. Individuals create our own discourse rather than having it spooned to us. I think Postman's privilege shielded him from the possibilities of multi modal discourse, and I can relate to his fear of change. As a teen during the time Postman was writing Amusing Ourselves to Death  I understand facing the digital age with trepidation. But learning is about discovering new things without an attachment to the outcome. We have no way of knowing what we will learn by listening to the songs of humpback whales and trying to figure out what they mean. By listening to them, though, we might learn more about ourselves and our value to the world.

Image Credit: PBS


Dolls, Models, and Image

PDH Face

Here she is in all of her glory: the porcelain doll head that someone dug up during the creation of MARTA, Atlanta's public transportation system.  She was dubbed the "Kinda Creepy Doll Head" by Robert, a grad student at Georgia State, and the name has stuck.  She is, after all, kinda creepy.

Posterior side of doll head with archaeological numbers.
Posterior side of doll head with archaeological numbers.

But what makes her creepy?  At one point in time she was a child's plaything, the thing a young girl aspired to be.  And I make that jump because according to Doll Reference and, she would have been produced as a toy near the early 1900s.  These types of dolls, instead of taking their much revered spot on a shelf, were the playthings and companions of little girls.  They had faces of delicate China and hardy bodies made from wood and fabric.  I pull on my personal experience as a girl who owned many dolls to speculate that our "Kinda Creepy Doll Head" once adhered strictly to a standard of beauty.  She would have been a face that a young girl coveted:

When I grow up, I want to look like her...

You see, as much as I tried to avoid it, it's impossible to bring up the doll without also bringing up image, particularly the image of women as they "should be" in society.  And bear with me here, because I know we are all probably tired of the self-esteem talk where someone tells you to love your body, you think, yeah sure, and then angrily grab a hand full of your own.

And while I believe that we should absolutely LOVE our bodies, I also think that many feminists have stormed the field already.  It is not my goal in this piece to add my own words to the buzz.  Instead, I want to point to some of the ways that modern artists are working with conceptions of image.  One such artist is Jessica Harrison.  A truly unique voice, Jessica has a collection of Tattooed Porcelain Dolls that, as the title suggests, presents another way to view the feminine body.  She even goes as far as to make them pretty grotesque in another exhibit.

But even this really wild artist adheres to conventions of color and size.  Instead of the poofy cheeks that you see on the Kinda Creepy Doll Head, her dolls exhibit long necks, slender physiques, big breasts, flowing gowns, and white skin.  Are our conceptions of beauty still so narrowly defined?  According to model Cameron Russell, they are.

So, in light of all of this, what do you think?  Is the media doing a better job representing different types of beauties in the things we see every day?

Are dolls even that big of a deal?

What are some other ways to represent women favorably to girls?



#7: Forming Emotional Bonds with Objects

My object is a brass ammo buckle, which has a carving of an eagle symbolizing the U.S. marine's. Upon first glance it may not seem like much, and it was really difficult to find a lot of information on the ammo buckle itself because of its rarity, but from the little information that I did find, it really helped me to form a deeper connection to it. I realized that, even though its outer appearance was not as captivating as the other objects, its history was what it helped to make it stand out. Most importantly, since it left me a lot of room for personal interpretations, I was also able to form a personal bond with it based on the ideas that I have added. I felt like, since my object was most likely overlooked compared to the other objects, I sort of felt sorry for it. Since it also did not have a lot of information on it, I felt like it was misunderstood. I started to wonder why we form these bonds with objects, even though the relationship is one-sided.

Based on a study in 1979 by a psychologist and security object expert, Richard Passman, he had termed the idea of "essentialism," which is an idea that objects are more than just their physical properties.

"Objects are emotional."

If I were asked to replace my object with another object, I would decline because I have already formed an emotional connection to it. I would feel like I was betraying my object, especially when I had spent so much time observing its entire form and history. This is called the "endowment effect," where people tend to value things more when they feel ownership over it.

"Part of the story of what happens with touch is it almost becomes an extension of yourself. You feel like it's more a part of you, and you just have this deeper attachment to it."

A study in 2008 by the Journal of Judgement and Decision Making revealed that people who held onto a mug for 30 seconds before bidding for it in an auction, offered an average of 83 cents more for it than people who held the mug for 10 seconds. This brings us to another idea that our tendency to love objects goes beyond the soft and cuddly. We also form a connection with an object based on its texture. The study also found that people who loved the feel of a squishy gripped pen preferred this particular pen compared to another similar pen without the squishy grip.


1. What qualities helped you to form a connection with your object? Was it due to any personal reasons?

2. If you had the option to switch your object with another object, why or why wouldn't you?

Less Toys for More Gains: Blog 7

As many of you know, my object is the creepy doll head - the doll without eyes.  Although my object is missing eyes, it is in surprisingly good shape.  According to my research, it appears that this particular doll head was likely made in the late 1890s or early 1900s. It is amazing that something this old can still be in one piece!  The material it is made of is not particularly durable either.   It is made of bisque, which I learned is easy to break.  Since a doll is a toy, we can infer that this doll could very well have been owned by a child.  Since several of us in the class are researching doll heads and/or toys, I thought it would be useful to discuss how children treat and see objects and how this has changed with time.

How Many Toys do Children Need?

I have heard so many people claim that their kids have so many toys, they do not know what to do with them.  While it seems like it would be positive for kids to have so many toys, is it really beneficial to their learning about how to respect and treat objects?  Keeping in mind that all adults start as kids, I sometimes wonder if the way we view objects starts during childhood.  If children have so many toys growing up that they seem limitless will they find it necessary to care for these materials?

Back in the day...

Children didn't have as many toys as they do now!  While I was doing my research, I came across an article by Susan Brewer called "Armand Marseille Dolls & Other Bisque Dolls."  In the article Brewer points out something really interesting that sparked my idea for this discussion.

"As the heads were made of fine china they were extremely breakable, and the fact that there are so many still around today just goes to show how much little girls treasured their dolls in those days. They probably only had a few, unlike today’s children who might own dozens of Barbies or baby dolls which are played with for a short while before being discarding. Bisque dolls were loved and cherished – just think of all the stories they could tell us today."   -Susan Brewer

Susan points out the potential effect of owning more toys.  She implies that back in the times when children had very few toys, they took care of them better than children today who have toys that seem limitless.  Girls likely knew that if their doll broke, they probably were not going to get another one.  This point makes it clear why the bisque doll head I am researching is still in tact.


Other Potential Benefits of Children Possessing Less Toys

I was curious about the benefits of children owning less toys, and I found an article entitled "Why Fewer Toys Benefit Your Kids", by Joshua Becker.  I encourage you to take a look at the article to speculate about all of the potential benefits, but I would like to highlight a couple.  Becker explains that when kids have less toys, they learn to be more creative.  He also claims that children with less toys will be more resourceful and will find a love of activities outside of picking out and being rewarded by toys.  Above all, the house will be more clean!

So How Does this Transcend into Adult Life?

When children are given every toy they want, they do not have to worry about going without.  Since they know there is always a replacement, they do not worry about caring for objects.  Perhaps that habit carries over into adulthood, which could explain why most adults own so much.  I even think the imagination aspect applies to adults.  Most of us will be extremely bored if we do not have some technology to keep us entertained.  Many people reward themselves with shopping, a habit that is considered undesirable in adulthood, yet adults reward their children with toys all the time.

Questions to Consider. What do you think?

1.  Do children today have too many toys?  What is a reasonable number of toys?

2. Is it important that children learn at a young age to care for objects?

3. Does the way that children treat their toys have an impact on the level of respect they have for materials as they become adults?


Image Credit:

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Healthy Things

One issue that has plagued humans for much of our history is dental health. As our teeth are important part of consuming our meals, it has been important for us to maintain our teeth for as long as possible. However, it has not been until the last couple centuries that effective solutions have been discovered to curve tooth decay and gum disease. Our desire for a cleaner mouth not only stems from our need to eat, but aesthetic reasons as well. Around 3000 years ago, the ancient Chinese were using twigs from fragrant trees to freshen their breath. You may also notice that most portraits and pictures dating over a hundred years ago did not feature people smiling with their teeth. Rotten teeth, though widespread, have never been particularly attractive, and humans have spent much of history trying to solve this problem.

This got me thinking about objects being representations of milestones in human history. While objects hold many personal or societal functions, objects such as the toothbrush can represent breakthroughs and achievements in human development. While toothbrushes may seem ordinary to us now, this sort of innovation has been developed after millennia of inconvenience, pain, and disease. Take, as another example, the Aleve you may keep in your medicine cabinet (or maybe somewhere even more frequented). While we may pop a couple of these pain-relievers following a hangover or a sore back, NSAIDs hold a power people have wrought over for lifetimes. Fevers were often fatal before modern medicine, but now almost every house stocks a simple suppressant for these killers, and at a price almost anyone can afford.

What I think I am getting at is the idea of objects having hidden, or maybe forgotten values. Time seems to quell the appreciation we have for certain objects, but they retain that value regardless. Perhaps this is simply the inevitability of all technologies and medicines, but these values only remain hidden until we are without the objects. This is when their true worth becomes all too apparent.

Reading Things…



ABOUT MATERIAL CULTURE: This is a great interactive website teaches about Human and cultural geography. There is a great animated video that quickly recaps what material culture studies is.

This video is a great basic explanation of what the study of material culture includes.  It coveres all the things we have learned in class so far. I love that this video made a point that material culture is extrememly broad and even dancing can be defined as part of somones material culture. I love that the video makes an important point in trying to not view the studied objects in a biased way. It made an important point that we disucssed in class, that one must do his best to stick to the TRUE meaning of an object and not just apply his own beliefs to the object.  Another great point that the video made that we also covered in class is that material culture studies is emerging as its own discipline. It is really an interdisciplinary field.


Also I found a website containing all kinds of information on material culture studies. Here is the Journal of Maerial Culture where you can download free PDF's and learn about the latest research in material culture studies.

Blog #7: Reading Things

For the first six blog prompts, I have taken charge of selecting the readings and focus of discussion. I've asked you to blog about the relationship between objects and writing, the sources and nature of cuteness, the uncanny lure of dead things, the histories we read in old things, how we sort tools from weapons, and what we might learn from thinking about smart things.

Now it's your turn.


Photo of two birds on a high wire, one of them flying in with an insect in its beak for the other to eat.
Image credit: "It's your turn" by coniferconifer on Flickr.

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