To launch this unit I will explain to the students that they will be time travelers moving from the present to the past and into the future while making discoveries. I will have the students design their own time travel goggles. These goggles can be used as reminders that they will be looking at artifacts through a different set of lenses.
I will start the unit by giving students a "mystery" object, something they probably have never seen. This object will jumpstart a discussion with simple questions like "What do you think this is?" What do you notice about the object?" "Why do you think that? Another example of how to introduce artifacts is with "What's the relic game?" The teacher shows the image of an object and lists three phony and one genuine use of the object. The class tries to determine what the actual use of the object is. These techniques will demonstrate how difficult it is to explain history when you have just a small piece of information taken out of context. It is very hard to understand something that you have had no experience with.
Next, I plan to use David Macaulay's book,
Motel of the Mysteries
as a way to give students further insight into the concept of making inferences from artifacts. This book shows that archeologists make inferences based upon what they observe. This does not mean that they are always correct. Macaulay's amusing, but serious book will help students understand about "reading between the lines" and get them thinking more outside the box while they laugh at the crazy interpretations revealed in the book. Although the book contains some sophisticated language and concepts, I will guide them through it. We will view samples from "The Treasures "in the
Motel of the Mysteries,
which are hysterical. These will make the students not only laugh out loud but also make them think in a different way.
I will then present the students with another example of how a future archeologist might interpret our culture with the viewing of the video clip "Future History: Plastic Bottles". Through these examples the students will see that history is filled with interesting and thought provoking interpretations. Maybe some of the students have seen the movie
and can make the connections between the movie and these examples from the book and the video clip. This should lead to an interesting class discussion.
Another activity I plan to use as an introduction to historical artifacts is to view clips from television shows such as "History Detectives," "American Pickers", and "Antiques Road Show". These shows are fundamentally about artifacts from the past and the stories that surround them. Every family has some item in their house that connects their family to the broader events of history; the picture of Uncle Joe serving in the Vietnam War, a ticket stub dated 1984 to a Run-DMC concert or a 1959 pink dial Princess phone buried in a box in the basement. Every artifact has to have a story attached to it even if it's just a piece of old junk.
For an introductory assignment students will be assigned to bring in something from home, an artifact to share with the class. Students will be asked to create a narrative around the artifact showing what importance is has in the student's history, - in effect, an "artifact biography". Students will think about the history of the artifact itself with an assignment to imagine interviewing the artifact. Who, what, where, when and how questions can be developed for the imaginary interview. Now the students should have an overview of what will prepare them for working with their own artifacts as time travel archeologists.