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Museum Assignment Support Materials

These videos provide a basic explanation for “reading” or analyzing objects, so learners can conduct their own explorations.

How to Read a
Three-Dimensional Object

Artwork in this video was created by Barbara McCormick.

How to Read a
Two-Dimensional Object

Artwork in this video was created by Lisa Tuttle.

Notes from Katy: Methods suggested in these videos reference the pedagogies described by Phillip Yenawine and Abigail Housen’s Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS) and Shari Tishman in Slow Looking: The Art and Practice of Learning. These can serve as good starting points to lead to deeper, more advanced object study. Please be aware that VTS has been critiqued by education professionals (I have found some pitfalls myself in teaching). Knowing the shortcomings prior to using the methodology may help you adjust and utilize the technique as a part of your teaching strategy effectively. Also, analyzing an object fully usually takes much longer than these videos suggest. When doing this live, I will spend at least fifteen to twenty minutes discussing any one item with a group. Lastly, in one of the videos I was speaking off the cuff and used “object, “art”, and “artifact” interchangeably and should have acknowledged the distinct differences in meaning between those terms.

To gain .mp4 or .mov versions of these videos for your Canvas platform, contact Katy Malone, Curator of Academic Programs. Suggestions for additional videos are also welcome!

General Questions
Who might have created this artifact? What can you tell about how it was made by looking at it?
What can you tell about the people or society from which this artifact comes? What materials did they have available or what might have been considered valuable? What cultural or personal value does this object seem to have?
What significance does this object have today? Why does it belong in a museum? How does its presence in a museum change the meaning of the object?
How would this object have been used? What type of worker or individual would have used it?
History Prompts
Where and when was this object made? What was it used for and what does that tell you about the people who created it?
What does this object tell you about the past? How might its “story” influence the present?
What item from contemporary times is similar to this object or do we use for the same purpose?
What is this made of? Was it was produced or made by hand? How can you tell?
Design Analysis Prompts
What does the design on the surface suggest? What about the shape and size (scale)?
What does the structure of this object suggest about its use or importance to the culture that made it?
What mood does this evoke? How might that influence how or when the object is used?
What elements of this design influence the design of other things that you know about? Where would you see that applied?
How could this influence your design? How would you remain culturally sensitive and avoid cultural appropriation?
Big Picture Questions
What are some benefits to using objects as a primary source? What can you gather from an object that you can’t learn elsewhere?
What makes using objects as a primary source difficult?
How does analyzing objects influence what you have learned from other resources?

Using the museum for object study can bring ideas discussed in class to life. It inspires critical thinking, enhances analytical practices, and teaches students how to use primary sources in the form of material culture, art, or natural history specimens. The resources listed here can help you to develop assignments for your course.

All of these resources have been developed by or for faculty around UT’s campus. Do you have a great assignment you would like to share with the community, or is there another basic material or analysis that you need?

Tell Katy Malone at!