|E1.Massachusetts Studies Project Teaching
** MATERIAL CULTURE**
Material Culture is a fancy way of saying "stuff". Often when referring
to objects used and created by people, students are taught to call them
"artifacts". Historians use the terms "artifacts" and "material
culture" interchangeably. There are as many ways to use objects in the
classroom, as there are objects to use. The most essential part of
using objects in a classroom setting is in invoking their storytelling
power. Objects can tell many tales and are subject to diverse and
General Teaching Tips:
The use of objects as teaching tool is particularly profound when
trying to elicit non-linear responses or stories. For example, when
doing oral histories with grandparents, students should ask their
subjects to tell them about objects that are on the piano or by their
bedsides rather than asking a straight list of "Where were you when?"
questions. Objects bring up emotional responses and memories easier
than linear questions.
Additionally, when teaching in the history classroom, objects have the
power to tell tales and link students to the history of other time
periods. For example, if students are studying several eras in history,
consider linking them together by telling the story of one type of item
that across time would be used daily (ex. Shoes, kitchen goods, etc.)
Watching how these items changed, including their use and production,
provides students with a concrete representation of the abstract
changes in society.
All of the information here is designed to help teachers integrate some
form of material culture into their classroom, so there is no one set
of questions that will effectively cover all the possible angles that a
teacher could use with a particular object. Depending on the article
you choose, you may need to find questions in other templates that
better lead your discussion of the object in question. The essentials
for teaching with an object are simply knowing the story you want that
object to tell and asking the questions that will help them uncover it.
Being comfortable with Socratic questioning is one of the best
prerequisites for teaching with material culture.
What is it?
What is it made of?
What is it used for?
Who would use it?
How would they use it? How do you know that?
What symbols or markings does it contain?
What does this tell you about the person/people who
What aspect of society does this relate to: work,
home, religion, etc.?
Critical Thinking Questions
In order for this object to exist, what else needs
to exist within the society that created it?
What does this object say about the people who made
it? What do they value?
What emotions or reactions does this object inspire
in you? Would every generation have the same reaction to it? Why or why
What does this object tell you about the social
rank, status or class of the individual that used it? What does it say
in general about people of that rank, status or class?
What other objects from this society would you like
to see in order to confirm or refute your theories about this object?