On Things That Talk, a website founded and developed by Fresco Sam-Sin, students and researchers describe objects from today and from long ago. By now, more than a hundred objects have been covered. Willemijn Waal, Emma Verweij and Frank van den Boom contributed to the content.
Willemijn Waal teaches Assyriology and Hittite. ‘Students following my course on the world of the Mycenaeans have found objects from this period. They described them for the platform.’ The university lecturer calls the approach of taking the object as a starting point ‘very nice and different. ‘We use many objects in science. Archaeologists dig them up and we reconstruct whole societies and histories from them, but normally you have students read articles and you look at them through text. By starting with the object, you get a completely different approach. Students really enjoyed this. They learned to ask completely different questions because the object was suddenly central to the research. That’s something else than a paper with footnotes.’
Research trainee Emma Verweij is one of the platform’s employees. She studied History and Art History at Leiden University and is now working with lecturer Marion Pluskota on a study about Amsterdam’s prostitution at the end of the nineteenth century. ‘It is a very interesting subject. Especially the objects of the people who worked as sex workers are very interesting. We are currently working on the description of a book. We describe what the book looks like, but also go into the information and photos that it contains. In this way, we try to make the world of sex workers a little more vivid.’
According to Emma, the multimedia nature of Things That Talk makes it a suitable platform for conveying information to people who don’t know much about a subject. ‘I myself have been working for four years at the National Museum of Antiquities in Leiden, where there is also a Things That Talk zone. There, they have chosen a sistrum (an Egyptian instrument); where you can also hear the sound of this instrument. In all the years that I have been working at the museum, I had never heard that before. That is what makes the platform so much fun: it adds so many new dimensions.’
Frank van den Boom works as a project manager for Things That Talk and studies Classics and Literary Studies. ‘I am currently working on a project about refugees in Leiden. Through the lens of their objects, I am looking at the stories they tell. These can be objects that they have taken with them from their country or that they have found here, as long as they are dear to them and tell their story.’ Frank has been working for the platform for a long time and has seen it grow. ‘This started with a job as a student assistant. In the meantime, it offers some opportunities for the future. Things That Talk grows faster than we expected, which makes it super cool to be a part of.’
With a smile
According to Willemijn, Emma, and Frank, the growth of Things That Talk can be mainly attributed to Fresco Sam-Sin (the founder). ‘Fresco does a lot for the platform and always does it with a smile. That makes it really nice to work with him. He also motivates you a lot and really wants to put students in the spotlight,’ says Emma. Frank agrees: ‘He believes that students have as much to say as teachers, according to him a fresh view is better. That’s why you get the tools and the space to do what you want.’
Things That Talk is a website created and developed by Fresco Sam-Sin with support from the Faculty of Humanities. In addition, Education and Quality Affairs, led by Sanne Arens, subsidised the project within the framework of educational innovation. Things That Talk is also currently involved in an ECOLe innovation project.