Museums are like time machines. They transport visitors to the past through exhibits and displays of objects that define a culture. Exploring these objects from our past, such as jewelry, pottery, clothing, kitchen utensils, and tools gives insight to what makes us similar and different. Whether the objects are from another continent or the local community, each provides an important lesson about our collective history.
In Chicago, we are spoiled with access to the Field Museum, many art museums, history museums, the Museum of Science and Industry and even more interactive museums and centers. But you don’t have to live in Chicago to explore artifacts. You and your students can learn plenty by visiting the local historical society or community museum or education center.
Here are a few tips for analyzing artifacts in a museum to make the most of your field trip.
- Check out the museum’s website before your visit. You may be able to see some of the more important or special artifacts in the museum’s collection. The website will likely provide background information about the objects and provide a guide for how to spend your day and what you shouldn’t miss.
- Arrange for a docent to take you around the exhibits you are interested in. Or try to take advantage of the audio tours that are available. You’ll always learn unusual facts about the artifact from these resources that just didn’t make it into the brochures or labels of the exhibit.
- Read the maps, labels, time lines, and brochures for the exhibit. Each piece helps to tell the story of the artifacts. They give context for object, often explaining what was going on during the time period, what was important to the culture at the time, and give the big picture, helping students imagine what it was like to live long ago.
- Ask students these important questions when they are observing each artifact.
- When was this object made or used?
- What is the object made of?
- How do you think this object was made?
- How might the object have been used? Is the object decorative?
- Who might have made or used this object?
- What can you infer about the culture or lives of the people who made or used this object?
- Why do you think this object is in the museum?
- Does this object remind you of anything we use today? How has it changed or stayed the same?
After your visit to the museum, allow the class time to reflect on what they observed. Facilitate a discussion about a few of the student’s favorite artifacts. You might have students choose objects that represent their lives to create an exhibit that tells the story of their classroom today.