The dolls house of Petronella Dunois is on display in the 17th century gallery of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam April 4, 2013. The Rijksmuseum, after a decade of rebuilding, renovation and restoration, will open to the general public on April 13, 2013, according to the media release. REUTERS/Michael Kooren (NETHERLANDS - Tags: SOCIETY TRAVEL) - RTXY8GS

Dollhouses Weren’t Invented for Play

The social history of dollhouses is at odds with the idea that dollhouses are spaces of emotion, freedom, and imagination.

by Nicole Cooley

Dollhouses are both private and public. A dollhouse may live in our house or in a museum or online. People might sit down in front of a dollhouse, swing open its walls, remove its roof, and disappear alone inside. Or they might gather with a group of visitors at a museum and admire a dollhouse behind glass. The motto of the National Association of Miniature Enthusiasts is: “Only through sharing can we really enjoy our treasures.”

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Cheesemaker David Clarke separates the curds and whey to make Red Leicester cheese at Sparkenhoe Farm in Upton, central England October 8, 2007. Red Leicester cheese had not been made in Leicestershire since 1956 until Clarke started producing his traditional, unpasteurised cloth-bound cheese using milk from his 150 pedigree Holstein Fresian cows.  REUTERS/Darren Staples   (BRITAIN) - RTR1UPZD

How Real Cheese Made Its Comeback

After decades of Kraft Singles, more Americans than ever are hungry for artisanal varieties of the past. An Object Lesson.

by Laura Kiesel

Americans once prioritized affordability and convenience in food. But today, more consumers are embracing complex taste and purity of product, not to mention taking the environmental impact of their food choices into account—and they are willing to pay a higher price for the privilege. Cheese is a macrocosm of this trend.

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CAYCE, SC - FEBRUARY 27:  A worker makes adjustments on a billboard stating "Choose Happy Today," along Interstate 77 during the South Carolina Democratic Presidential Primary February 27, 2016 in Cayce, South Carolina.  Voters cast their ballots for the South Carolina Democratic Presidential Primary between Democratic Presidential candidates, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont.  (Photo by Mark Makela/Getty Images)

The Call of the Billboard

The roadside battle for people’s attention has been raging for more than a century.

by Erica Berry

Billboards normally call humans to commerce rather than insects to death. But their usual work often goes as unnoticed to people as to mosquitos. Billboards are so common it can be easy to stop seeing them entirely—until the draw of the products they depict appears later.

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Why Attack Airports?

A Mini Object Lesson

by Christopher Schaberg

Throughout the twentieth century and up to now, airports have been stages for displays of excessive power, and their corollary dangers. What makes airports popular targets for violent spectacles?

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A variety of flash drives by Sandisk are displayed at the Consumer Electronics Show CES Unveiled event in Las Vegas, Nevada January 5, 2008. The show opens January 7th. REUTERS/Rick Wilking (UNITED STATES) - RTX59DB

Why Flash Drives Are Still Everywhere

It’s the lizard brain of your computer.

by Paul Dourish

The flash drive exposes the great lie of technological progress, which is the idea that things are ever really left behind.

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NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 15:  Chiara Ferragni is wearing a cardigan sweater from Saint Laurent, a bag from Chanel and  a Apple iWatch Hermes edition seen in the streets of Manhattan during New York Fashion Week: Women's Fall/Winter 2016 on February 15, 2016 in New York City.  (Photo by Timur Emek/Getty Images)

The Military Origins of the Cardigan

The popular sweater has a revolutionary history that includes Riot Grrrls and Coco Chanel.

by Allison Geller

Cardigan sweaters are the workhorses of the apparel family: so ubiquitous it’s easy to forget that they didn’t always exist. But they come with a vivid—and fierce—historical provenance.

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Playmobil airline lavatory

Gender in Flight

A Mini Object Lesson

by Christopher Schaberg

Gender politics have by no means disappeared up in the sky. Still, airplanes prove that some gender battles have already been settled.

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First grade student Livie Classenn recites the Pledge of Allegiance to start the day at the  Walton Rural Life Center Elementary School, in Walton, Kansas, January 18, 2013. Students at the school do farm chores at the beginning of each school day. The Walton Rural Life Center - a kindergarten through fourth grade  charter school in rural Kansas - uses agriculture to teach students about math, science, economics.  REUTERS/Jeff Tuttle (UNITED STATES - Tags: EDUCATION AGRICULTURE SOCIETY) - RTR3DVPT

Where Do Flags Come From?

Since ancient times, civilizations have carried staffs, crests, and banners to declare their identities.

by Ben Nadler

National flags are streamlined symbols, easily recognizable and replicable. A sense of identity and a set of values can be invoked with a simple set of colored stripes and stars.

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A sex worker demonstrates the use of a female condom during an HIV/AIDS awareness campaign organised by a non-governmental organisation (NGO) in the eastern Indian city of Siliguri February 15, 2010. More than two hundred sex workers attended the awareness campaign on Monday, a NGO official said. REUTERS/Rupak De Chowdhuri (INDIA - Tags: HEALTH SOCIETY) - RTR2AAPW

The Enduring Unpopularity of the Female Condom

The internal condom saves lives, but it has been criticized from the start.

by Christine Ro

It’s clear that female condoms save lives, but over a quarter-century since their introduction, the apparatus remains unappealing and unpopular.

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Empty cans wait to be filled with Bronx IPA Session Ale beer at the Bronx Brewery in the Bronx borough of New York, United States, March 5, 2015. The popularity of craft beers has grown rapidly in recent years in the United States as drinkers seek new tastes, with sales estimated to have climbed more than a fifth in 2014. U.S. sales of craft beer in 2014 were worth nearly $20 billion, according to U.S. industry body the Brewers Association, up more than 22 percent from the previous year and accounting for nearly a fifth of all beer sold in the country. Picture taken March 5, 2015. REUTERS/Sara Hylton - RTX1JGVB

The Rise of the Beer Can

Aluminum revolutionized America’s beverage industry, but at what environmental cost?

by Brendan Byrne

Beer is ancient, and humans have been storing it for millennia.

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The Smoke Alarm Chirps at Night

A Mini Object Lesson

by Ian Bogost

Ever wonder why smoke alarms always seem to chirp in the middle of the night? It seems like the ultimate evidence that the universe is plotting against you. But, alas, it’s mostly just the universe chugging along as usual.

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Reels of sewing thread are displayed during the Knitting and Stitching show at Alexandra Palace in London, October 8, 2014. The show which includes over 600 exhibitors and 300 workshops is the largest textile and craft event in Britain.     REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth (BRITAIN  - Tags: SOCIETY BUSINESS TEXTILE)   - RTR49F4C

How Home Sewing Personalized Fashion

For generations, families have relied on thimbles, needles, and thread to transform the clothes they have into the clothes they want to wear.

by Frances Katz

Repairing clothing is more intimate than creating them. Compared to a sewing kit, even the most space-age sewing machine can seem cold and dull.

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Ketchup’s Forgotten Wisdom

A Mini Object Lesson

by Ian Bogost

The classic condiment dispensers of yore, with their cylindrical, plastic bodies and needle-tipped openings: these are the most functional vessels for doling out dollops.

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In this Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2012 photo, Dr. Russell Dohner wears a stethoscope around his neck as he tends to patients in his office in Rushville, Ill. When Dohner started practicing medicine in Rushville in 1955, he charged $2, the going rate around town for an office visit, but has since raised the fee to $5. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

Why Doctors Still Need Stethoscopes

The instrument may have outlived its use, but it hasn’t lost its power.

by Andrew Bomback

The stethoscope isn’t a tool, anymore, but a metonym for bedside manner.

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The Steel Road Plate, Accidental Traffic Calmer

A Mini Object Lesson

by Ian Bogost

America’s decaying infrastructure can be seen in high-profile disasters like the lead contamination of the water supply in Flint, Michigan. But other, more mundane infrastructural nuisances plague our cities far more regularly. Among them: the increasingly ubiquitous steel road plate.

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A local farmer checks refrigerators at a home appliance market in Zhangqiu county, Shandong province January 28, 2008.  Each rural family in Shandong and two other provinces are now entitled to a 13 percent government rebate on the purchase of up to two television sets, two refrigerators and two mobile handsets. The subsidies are part of a battery of policies by Beijing aimed at spurring domestic consumption and improving the lot of the country's roughly 740 million rural residents, who make up 56 percent of the population but have not benefited nearly as much from the economy's roaring growth as people in cities.  Picture taken January 28, 2008.  To match feature CHINA-ECONOMY/APPLIANCES     REUTERS/Stringer (CHINA) CHINA OUT - RTR1XCM4

Why Refrigerators Were So Slow to Catch On in China

The technology was once considered superfluous, until contemporary capitalism made it a necessity.

by Michael Strickland

The usefulness and necessity of the refrigerator depends on a number of factors that are not obviously related to the thing itself, from food packaging to the layout of communities to the length of school lunch breaks.

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A woman walks along a wooden bridge across the river of Usolka in the village of Taseevo, northeast of Krasnoyarsk, Siberia, October 3, 2014. Picture taken October 3, 2014. REUTERS/Ilya Naymushin (RUSSIA - Tags: SOCIETY ENVIRONMENT) - RTR48WDF

Learning From the Swinging Bridge

What rickety, rural suspension bridges can teach us about modern infrastructure

by T. Hugh Crawford

Rural swinging bridges were (and still are) vernacular architecture based on local knowledge and materials, but technically, they are suspension bridges just like the Golden Gate.

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The Pleasure of the Text Editor

A Mini Object Lesson

by Ian Bogost

When it comes to word processing, all too often white-collar workers produce documents when all they really need is text.

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The Mug, Scaffold of Office Work

A Mini Object Lesson

by Ian Bogost

In cupboards, a mug is just a mug. But in the office, a mug becomes the fundamental prop of the professional.

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Is the Library Card Dying?

After centuries of innovation, it faces an uncertain future.

by Sara Polsky

In the pre-computer era, library cards were just one part of a complex system that kept track of book loans and returns. But the need to issue a physical card at all may be disappearing. With smartphone apps, cardholders can input their numbers and produce a bar code that can be scanned, with no need for the actual card.

Read this essay at The Atlantic