Objects in the University’s archives help define what Brown has been and suggest how it hopes to grow. A selection of 25 objects, part of the 250th anniversary Fall Celebration, remains on display in the Nelson Fitness Center lobby.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — Objects can tell a story in a way that words often can’t. That was the idea behind 25 Objects: The Stories of Our Past, Present and Future, an exhibition that opened as part of last weekend’s 250th Anniversary Fall Celebration.

On display in the Overlook Room in the Stephen Robert ’62 Campus Center during Saturday and Sunday’s festivities and now on display in the lobby of the Nelson Fitness Center, 25 Objects is a compilation of photographs and descriptions of the places and things that make Brown unique. The exhibition is broken into five categories — research and discovery, enduring contributions, innovation in education, traditions old and new, and the Brown difference — and includes a range of items, from official symbols like the President’s Commencement Regalia and the University’s charter, to more mundane but equally recognizable items like the Brown Bear mascot and the paper lanterns that have become the traditional decoration for the annual Campus Dance in May.

Venus in transit
Benjamin West, later professor of mathematics and astronomy, observed the transit of Venus in Providence on June 3, 1769, using this reflecting telescope, built in London ca. 1765. His observations were part of an international effort to determine the size of the solar system.  Photo: Erik Gould

Valerie Taylor, content curator for the year-long 250th anniversary celebration, oversaw the selection of objects with the 250th planning office, which included input from many in the Brown community.

What began as an idea to showcase items from the Brown archives eventually expanded to include a more diverse array of objects, Taylor said. “It’s telling a story that encompasses the broader Brown experience: the everyday, student action, teaching, and many other aspects of life at Brown through the years.”

Whittling the selection down to 25 items was an obvious challenge, Taylor said. “There was a lot of discussion in deciding what to include. With all of the interesting stories that Brown has to tell, we probably could have had 250 objects.”

Taylor was on hand during Saturday’s events to answer questions. As a stream of alumni, parents, and students made their way into the room, the display of objects sparked more than a few memories.

“It’s been really interesting to see the reactions to the exhibition. There’s been a lot of reminiscing and some laughter, too,” Taylor said.

Marianna Krejci-Papa ’86, said the exhibition was “a trip down memory lane.”

“Some objects I remembered and some I had never heard of before,” said the Quincy, Mass., resident.

Ken McDaniel ’69 of Cranston, R.I., echoed Krejci-Papa’s sentiments.

“So many things here have been around, but overlooked. There was so much we walked past when we were students here and never noticed,” McDaniel said.

Herb Wood ’51 said he also didn’t recognize many of the objects, but for a different reason: He had graduated before many of them even made their campus debut.

“Many things have changed since my time here,” Wood said.

The real thing: A Diesel study engine
The engine has provided engineering students with a hands-on learning tool for more than 50 years. It runs at 400 revolutions per minute, allowing views into many of the working parts, supplementing theoretical and computer-based learning.  Photo: University Archives

But his daughter, Beth Karlson ’84, said many of the objects in the exhibition were familiar to her.

“I thought (the exhibition) did a really great job of capturing some really key points about the University and the medical school.” She added that her son, a freshman who is interested in engineering, would enjoy the information on the Diesel Study Engine, which has been in use in the Prince Engineering Lab for the last 50 years.

Amy Reiss ’85 was especially interested to learn about the BrainGate technology being developed here.

“It’s incredible. Brown is on the forefront of this and it shows how Brown has developed over the years.”

For Krejci-Papa, the New Curriculum Report in 25 Objects served as a reminder of how her time at Brown helped shape who she is today.

The college professor majored in classics and literary arts and said that the ability to study what she wanted definitely informed her decision to pursue a career in academia.

“The New Curriculum was what attracted me the most to Brown and what benefited me the most while I was here.”

25 Objects is now on display in the lobby of the Nelson Fitness Center, where it will remain for the foreseeable future before it is relocated to another spot on campus.