Object Biographies: Exploring the Secret Lives of 'Things'

The life stories of objects—“things”—reveal who we are and how we live. These objects might be things we use every day, like door handles or bicycle tires. When we invite them to speak—to share their histories—we open up a world of relationships between humans and nonhumans. Using examples including memoirs, itineraries and children’s literature you’ll gain insights into the lives of things, and experiment with objects’ own stories.

A $50 discount will be applied automatically for adults 55+.


Location: Online
Format: Self-paced with weekly virtual class
Duration: 6 weeks
Tuition: $180
Can be applied to:
Liberal Arts for 55+ Certificate

Upcoming Offerings

Currently not available for registration.

Course outline

  • Week 1: Introduction to thing-stories
    Although often central characters in archaeology books, object stories appear in less-expected places, too, from advertisements to opening credits of films. We’ll explore various types of “thing-stories” and how they’ve been used throughout history.
  • Week 2: Invitation to follow-the-thing
    How do we research the story of an object? What can an object tell us on its own, and what can we do when the object is silent? We’ll consider approaches to story-gathering and thing-following.
  • Week 3: From singular to multiple, with a dash of the speculative
    We’ll explore the effect of object groupings. Is it better to follow a single object, or to examine a whole collection? How and why might we narrate the life of a “thing” that doesn’t exist?
  • Week 4: Flesh and blood, living and dying
    What constitutes a “thing”? Can we narrate the life of a landscape or an emotion? We’ll examine how authors follow the lives of various “things”—from living organisms, to concepts, processes and practices. 
  • Week 5: Beginnings, endings and unfollowable things
    Where does an object’s story begin? Where does it end? The answer might seem obvious, but if we step away from human-centred and simplistic narratives, we find multidimensional storylines—some stretching infinitely into the future.
  • Week 6: Childhood—where thinking about thing-ness begins
    We return to the beginning, where many first experience object biography: childhood. We’ll examine what objects do (and do not) teach children about the world, and how these stories shape current global realities.

What you will learn

By the end of the course, you should be able to:

  • Identify diverse techniques to “follow” an object
  • Discuss the history and current uses of object biographies in various sub-genres
  • Describe how object biographies have been used as educational tools
  • Explain how object biographies can reveal hidden lives and increase ethical choices

How you will learn

  • Academic and non-academic articles, short film clips and podcasts
  • Participation in videoconference seminars via Zoom
  • Opportunities for written online discussions with other students about weekly topics
  • Reflective essay (applicable only to certificate students)

Learning Materials

No textbook is required. We will provide all course materials online.

Technical Requirements

For online courses, you will need a computer with audio and microphone that is connected to the internet. Canvas is the online system that will be used for the course. For more information and online support, visit Online Learning.

To get the most out of this online course, you should be comfortable with:

  • Using everyday software such as browsers, email and social media
  • Navigating a website by clicking on links and finding pages in a menu
  • Downloading and opening PDF documents
  • Posting, replying and uploading images to a discussion board
  • Participating in videoconferencing sessions

New to Zoom Meetings? A few days before the course starts, we’ll host a virtual drop-in time on Zoom so you can check your Zoom access and test your computer’s camera, microphone and speakers.