In her essay in the current issue of Perspectives on History, “Teaching with a Tea Set: Using Objects in the US History Survey,” Abby Chandler discusses her use of antiques and reproductions to make history more accessible to students. “Students sometimes struggle with the more abstract concepts posed by mercantilism,” she writes, “but a wooden tea chest brings to life the idea that wood was harvested in North America, sent to Britain to be planed and shaped into a chest equipped with metal handles, and then shipped back to the colonies for purchase as a finished product.” Chandler’s use of objects is more than illustrative—her goal is to teach students how to “read” objects and how to take advantage of the times when “students become suddenly humbled by the fact that they have no idea what it is that they are holding.”
In addition to reading Chandler’s article, instructors interested in introducing objects to their classrooms can consult the following resources:
Indiana University and Mathers Museum of World Cultures’ “Teaching with Objects and Photographs: Supporting and Enhancing Your Curriculum”:
Geared towards K–12 teachers, this resource is helpful for instructors in any setting. “Teaching with objects is an excellent means to enhance students’ sensory literacy, allowing them to develop the ability to compile evidence through sight, touch, hearing, smell, and even taste, and to analyze and articulate that evidence.” Detailed instructions include how to find objects, how to use them in class, and how to interpret photographs.
Journal of Education’s “Teaching Yourself to Teach with Objects”:
John Hennigar Shuh of Nova Scotia Museum reflects on teaching with objects in different settings, from the first grade to the car garage. He writes that learning to “read” objects is like learning to read texts. Using a Styrofoam cup as an example, he explains how one can acquire the necessary skills for “reading objects.”
Harvard Center for Middle East Studies’ “Using Objects to Teach about Religion in the Context of the Middle East Region”:
This manual discusses how using objects to teach religion in the Middle East can help the teacher avoid the pitfalls of reductionism, essentialization, and orientalism. The handbook outlines a process of observation, inquiry, and reflection that can take place in the classroom.