By Jeff Burns
I wanted to do something a little different than just going over the syllabus on the first day of my history classes this year, so I decided to have them do some history on day 1. Inspired by one of the dozens of initiatives being introduced at my school this year, making connections and building relationships with students, I scoured my house and classroom looking for knickknacks, mementos, any little objects that were part of my story. I ended up with business cards, expired passports, class rings, favorite books and CDs, and all kinds of other things.
Next, I divided the “artifacts” into 6 small baskets. Each group got a basket, and I instructed them to examine and discuss the objects and write down any observations they make based on the artifacts.
After several minutes of discussion, each group shared some of their observations, and I let them know if they were correct or not. Then, I asked questions like “As we examine primary sources and artifacts this year, what are some problems that might affect our effort to get to the truth?” and “Who curated this collection? How does that affect the story told by the artifacts?” I then asked questions spiraling off their answers. This led to a great discussion of context, perspectives, bias, and the interpretation of history. I then wrapped it up with a brief PowerPoint about me and my hobbies that filled in some of the holes left by the artifact handling.
It was a fun activity, enjoyed by all. The students interacted with each other and learned a little about me, and I learned about them. It also introduced the idea of “doing history.