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Objects are what matter. Only they carry the evidence that throughout the centuries something really happened among human beings.               

Claude Lévi-Strauss       

Every day, in public and private, we are surrounded by, exchange, and engage with objects. Yet usually we do not regard material things as sources of intellectual inquiry. Even though commonplace objects are often intensely charged with meaning. They are places in which deep intimacies are achieved. Where we define who we are and want to become. Or where we can trace mute resistance.

Based on research by undergraduate students from the capstone seminar “American Everyday” taught in the English Department during fall semester 2014, this exhibition examines nineteenth-century objects created, cherished, and saved by Kansans, often over generations, and the stories they have passed along with them.

Things that Speak approaches these objects as windows onto dazzling and usually unexplored local experiences and lives, that link the present to the past and Kansas to larger American stories and to the world. The thirteen case studies on display are also an attempt to give a voice to people who typically had no access to print culture but whose lives and opinions are extraordinary and matter. Listening to Things that Speak, once objects of fascination, association, and endless consideration, is an invitation to rethink how almost any material object mediates social relationships, creates and embodies meaning, having a form and agency of its own. 

Click here to explore the stories of our items with us.