Australian history through objects
September 14, 2010 2:42 PM   Subscribe

Objects Through Time tells the story of immigration and the changing ethnic diversity of New South Wales, Australia through "movable heritage" - that is, artifacts and objects with historical resonance. While almost ignoring 50,000 years of aboriginal occupation, the site does a nice job of both familiar topics through a fresh lens (e.g., Captain Cook's "secret instructions"), but also takes pains to look at those lesser known topics which may be more accessible through material culture than through texts.

For example, these wax casts of the hands of a quarantined smallpox sufferer tell an eloquent story of misery, hope and racial relations. The board game "White Australia" speaks to casual racism of the 1920s, while the Tu Do refugee boat documents changing patterns of immigration. Poorly known modern history, such as Italian prisoners of war, are also approached through their objects. The site is a small part of a much broader and equally interesting project to document immigration history in New South Wales.
posted by Rumple (7 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Wow, this is great. It's one of those sites you can just keep coming back to for more slice of history learning.
posted by iamkimiam at 3:03 PM on September 14, 2010

That's a beautiful site, thank you! The Dirk Hartog Plate and the convict love-tokens were particularly interesting.
posted by Paragon at 4:15 PM on September 14, 2010

I love this, thanks. Those who enjoy this may also like the BBC's "A History of the World in 100 Objects" site.
posted by lalex at 4:21 PM on September 14, 2010 [2 favorites]

Just coming in to agree with lalex (I was coming in to write what lalex said actually). The final third of the episodes for 'A History of the World' is being broadcast now, and is available as a podcast. Check it out.
posted by Megami at 11:09 PM on September 14, 2010

Very cool post, although I too wish there was more representation of Aboriginal movable heritage, it it important to realize that Aboriginal people did not have many things and that they did not put a priority on having a lot of things. For people moving about on foot, at the bare edge of survival in a harsh environment, things to carry might not be with the bother. Things are more worth the bother if you van stay in one place.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 12:02 AM on September 15, 2010

This is great. Although I wish the explanations had a bit more "who made this and why" as well as the "this is significant because" parts. I feel like my curiosity has been piqued but not fulfilled! What were the smallpox wax hands for? It briefly mentions 'medical education' - so they're to show immigration officers what to look for, maybe? For doctors in training?
posted by harriet vane at 5:40 AM on September 15, 2010

It occurred to me after my light criticism of the non-aboriginal content that the entire site is about immigration, so maybe that was misplaced.
posted by Rumple at 10:35 AM on September 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

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