Eloquent Things: Teaching using real objects

In an increasingly virtual world, direct encounters with real objects have come to be regarded as important and versatile tools in University teaching across a wide range of disciplines. The Ashmolean has established itself as a pioneer of this exciting new pedagogy.

Eloquent Things is a short course intended as an introduction to the principles and practice of teaching with objects and comprises four mornings in the study rooms and galleries of the Ashmolean Museum.

Using works of art and archaeological material gathered from the Ashmolean’s extraordinary collections, we will discover methodologies that are also applicable to rare books, buildings, everyday objects or, indeed, any type of material culture. We will consider how you might collaborate with curatorial staff in museums, and the advantages and disadvantages of working in the Study Room with objects taken from storage or in the galleries looking at objects on display.

We will also explore how teaching with objects can offer new routes in to your own research; open up new ways of working with students in the classroom; or lead to inter- or multi-disciplinary forms of teaching.


The course is led by Dr Jim Harris, Andrew W Mellon Foundation Teaching Curator at the Ashmolean. Jim trained as an art historian at the Courtauld Institute of Art, specialising in late medieval and Renaissance polychrome sculpture, but his teaching at Oxford spans a wide range of disciplines from the Medical Sciences to the Humanities, calling into service the full breadth of the Ashmolean’s collections.

The course runs at the Ashmolean Museum over four consecutive mornings, with a small group of 8 DPhils and Postdocs.  
It is essential that participants commit to the whole course.


Learning outcomes

By the end of this course, you will be able to:

  • Discuss the ways in which a group of students might interact with objects, and explain how these interactions might contribute to student learning in your discipline
  • Articulate some of the advantages and challenges of working with objects
  • Design a lesson which makes use of one or more objects either related to your field of research/teaching or to another pertinent discipline
  • Design a class based around teaching in a museum gallery, centered on objects on display
  • Approach curatorial staff in a museum with some confidence regarding how one might work with museum objects in teaching
  • Understand some of the conservation issues surrounding the use of various materials and object types
  • Handle museum objects correctly


rd eloquent things


In the application process we will ask you to submit a 200 word summary of why you think you should be offered a place.


Application window opens: 7 October 11am

Application deadline: 7 November, 1pm.


Course structure

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Why Objects? Looking and Handling in Museums

  • Handling objects of different types
  • Conservation issues raised by object handling
  • When not to handle
  • How to look
  • On the spot written assignment: object description

Contexts for Teaching

  • Where are you likely to teach with objects?
  • What courses might be appropriate for teaching with objects?
  • How can objects speak into more than one discipline?
  • How are objects useful in thematic teaching?
  • Assignment: plan a lesson, with a partner from another discipline, using objects from the Museum

Teaching in the Study Room

  • Deliver and discuss the lesson plans
  • Plan a short teaching presentation around an object on display in the galleries

Teaching in a museum gallery

Deliver and discuss gallery presentations