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exhibit | Debates, Decisions, Demands: Objects of Campaigns and Activism

Event Type
Spurlock Museum
Spurlock Museum
Feb 12, 2021   All Day
Originating Calendar
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(available whenever the Museum is open)

Presidential campaigns produce all manner of memorabilia. In our time, we have President Trumpʼs white on red MAGA hats and Joe Bidenʼs aviator sunglasses. Campaigns throughout history, too, have been accompanied by material objects that reflect cultural interests and stereotypes of their times. And yet, outside of mainstream politics, there are voices that have been silenced. Historical photographs and objects from voter rights movements like abolition and suffrage are also included in this exhibit, as are photographs from contemporary protest movements.

The People's Collection

This exhibit draws heavily on our Peopleʼs Collection, which comprises an eccentric mix of everyday objects related to presidential political campaigns, social causes and reform, and community promotion. Some of the objects include pin-on badges and buttons, figurines, paperweights, and cups. As objects of consumption and promotion, what can they tell us about early advertising efforts and the culture and concerns of their time? What canʼt they tell us?

"Politics are a part of our everyday lives, especially right now with an election looming,” says curator Nathan Tye. “And these objects are what are left behind when weʼve moved past the campaign or social moment—they are literally the stuff of politics. They can help us understand what changes and what endures. The objects convey a devotion to ideals, positions, possibilities, and candidates."

Poster Exhbits

Counter-balancing and complementing these objects from campaigns and social movements, we will host 3 poster exhibits:

  • Black Citizenship in the Age of Jim Crow, from the New-York Historical Society
  • Rightfully Hers, from the National Archives and Records Administration
  • Votes for Women: A Portrait of Persistence, from the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service.

In combination, these exhibits tell a story about who has been—and is still often—left out of American democracy, and how voting rights have been demanded and sometimes partially won.

Photographs from Protests

Bringing the conversation into our own time, we include photographs from contemporary social justice movements, including Black Lives Matter, the Womenʼs March, and the Dakota Access Pipeline protests.


U of I alumnus Nathan Tye is professor of history at the University of Nebraska Kearney. He specializes in the history of the American West and Midwest, labor history, gender and sexuality history, and digital and public history. He is working on his first book, Hobo Life: Illicit Mobilities, Masculinities, and Placemaking on the Road, 1870s–1930s.


Black Citizenship in the Age of Jim Crow was organized by the New-York Historical Society. Rightfully Hers is presented in part by the Womenʼs Suffrage Centennial Commission and the National Archives Foundation through the generous support of Unilever, Pivotal Ventures, Carl M. Freeman Foundation in honor of Virginia Allen Freeman, AARP, and Denise Gwyn Ferguson. Votes for Women: A Portrait of Persistence is organized by the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service in collaboration with the National Portrait Gallery.

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