What Do We Learn From Objects and Artefacts That We Can't Learn From Documents and Written Sources?

Essay 2013 5 Pages

History - Miscellaneous


What do we learn from Objects and Artefacts that we can’t Learn from Documents and Written Sources?

History has been conveyed and explored in a number of different mediums. Written sources are useful as an understanding and analysis of the past but there are other means in which to get closer and more hands-on with history. In Neil MacGregor’s ‘A History of the World in 100 Objects’ he states that “most of us learn history from books but physical objects often give us much more immediate access to the ideas and concerns of the people who made them.”[1] This essay will assess the importance of objects as a means of learning about the past. It will also discuss what historical objects can provide to historical studying and learning that written texts cannot in both academic and non-academic areas.

Objects provide us with a different and unbiased perspective on the past. The sources in which scholars use can have a strong effect on how they imagine their reconstructions of the past.[2] In written sources there is usually a sense of bias as it is written by either an individual or a group who will have a certain agenda. Of course, some objects are created by people to convey a certain message, however in some objects there is no bias whatsoever. For example, the myriad of children’s shoes found at Auschwitz can demonstrate a strong story and convey history without needing to push an argument. “The vast quantity of shoes in the enormous heaps on display illustrates the dimensions of the phenomenon of the concentration camp and the Holocaust”[3] Objects can represent the experience of multiple people in a way in which a written source cannot.


[1] MacGregor, Ian, A History of the World in 100 Objects (AudioGO Ltd. 2011), p. 4

[2] Vansina, Jan, ‘Historians, Are Archaeologists Your Siblings?’, History in Africa Vol. 22 , p.370

[3] http://en.auschwitz.org/m/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=587&Itemid=41


ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
367 KB
Catalog Number
Institution / College
University of Central Lancashire
what learn from objects artefacts that documents written sources



Title: What Do We Learn From Objects and Artefacts That We Can't Learn From Documents and Written Sources?