Published Date

May 15, 2024

Resource Type

Material Culture Resource

AHA Topics

Teaching & Learning

The following questions offer a starting point for analyzing an object, determining its historical significance, and evaluating its possibilities as a source.

Begin by asking students to describe the object in their own words.It can be helpful for them to make a rough sketch of the object on another sheet of paper and label its various components—the process of sketching requires them to look closely. Take note of the object’s measurements and weight.


Design and Production

What materials were used to make the object (e.g. wood, clay, plastic)? You might also dig a bit deeper to identify the specific materials (e.g. pine, brass, wool). From where did those materials originate?

Can you identify the creator(s)? Would they have been, for example, a cabinetmaker or weaver?

In what kind of workplace and under what working conditions was this object produced? For example, was it produced in a factory or a home?

Can you determine when and where this was created? Be as specific as possible. On what evidence would you base the date and geographical location?

How was the object produced? (e.g. hand-carved, casting, engraving) What processes were involved? What skills and knowledge were required? Was it mass-produced?

Use and Distribution

How was the object used? Was it decorative, utilitarian, both, or something else?

Who was the intended and/or actual user of this object? On what evidence is your answer based?

Is the object symbolic of something else?

What ideas and/or emotions do you think the entire object or image conveys?

Based on your previous answers, what was the object’s significance or role in the society in which it was produced/used?


How has this object’s use or significance changed over time? (For example, was it originally used in a home and is now part of a museum collection?)

What circumstances allowed for this object to survive into the present day? If it is in a museum, how did it become part of the collection?

Next Steps

Now that you have considered these questions, which story do you think this object tells best? Why?

What historical question(s) might you pose based on this object?

What else would you like to know about the object? Where could you go to find more information?