Cuckoo clock, 2018.
history pragmatic historian

Challenge: Investigating an Everyday Item’s History

In my last post, I discussed the bottom level of History’s Hierarchy of Purpose, which was Resource Location & Preservation, the foundation for all of history’s other purposes.

Today and over the next few posts, I will issue a number of challenges in order to enhance your ability to locate and preserve historic resources.

Challenge – Investigating an Everyday Item’s History

Find an item in your home that you are curious about. If it has a label or maker’s mark, all the better.

Open your favorite web browser and type a description of the item into the search field. Be specific in your description, including attributes like color, materials, shape, size, and purpose of the item. If you have a label, include the exact text of the label in the search description. (Patent descriptions & numbers count as labels.)

Click search and see what comes up.

You can also put this description into Google Images to see the results.

Select any link or image that appears to be similar to your item and consume the info you find.

You’ll probably discover there is nothing available online about your item, but there might be other items that are close matches. Or, you might find a little info about your item, but not enough to whet your curiosity. Where else might you look for additional information? Or, you might be lucky and find a lot of info about your item and its manufacturer.

The Purpose of the Challenge: Repeating this challenge with different items in your home will build your knowledge base, showing you which objects are related by era, style, manufacturer, and etc. This exercise will also sharpen your online search abilities. You’ll get to know what search criteria bring you the best results.

You’ll also discover that there are many, many things you won’t find online. That’s not because these things aren’t historically important; it’s because it takes time and passion to research their history and post it online.