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Past to present.

A subscriber recently sent me an e-mail complaining about my monthly editorial comments. The reader said she was tired of my mundane and sappy recycled memories and would much prefer a teachable lesson on this page. So to all of you who share a dislike for my sappy memory exercises, I apologize for my obsession with the past. That said, here we go again--back to the past, but this time with some lesson advice for the present.

One of the delights of growing up on a farm in southern Indiana, was finding an arrowhead when plowing--sort of a side benefit of spring planting. Most often the arrowheads were gray flint, but a few in my collection were black. However, it was the lone white one that allowed my imagination to soar. I imagined that it must have had special meaning for the person who used it.

I never found arrowheads in abundance or in close proximity on our farm, but kids on neighboring farms sometimes found numerous pieces of chiseled flint in concentrated areas. Some were nicely shaped arrowheads, and others were in various stages of completion. We imagined these creek-side fields had once been Wyandot campsites, and we sometimes re-enacted our fantasies of how the people were taken by surprise and had to abandon their work site, fleeing for their lives. Although our re-creations were layered with the influence of movies--Hiawatha, and The Last of the Mohicans--(and in retrospect, misguided by stereotypes), we still discussed significant questions: Who were these people? How did they live? Were the arrowheads meant for hunting or for warfare? How long ago were they here? What really happened to them?

An arrowhead find was always a cause for wonder, but it also meant a new piece for a growing memory collection. When I tired of carrying the summer's new piece of flint around in my overall pocket, I added it to my box of treasures--making sure to note the date and location of the find. Eventually, I mounted all my arrowheads on a board and framed them. I remember taking the collection with me when I went to college, but somewhere between my many moves, I lost my arrowhead collection--and a vital link to the past.

My point in recycling this memory is to suggest that material culture and artifacts can capture young people's imaginations and open up paths of inquiry about the past. Of course you can't take your students to my farm in Indiana to look for arrowheads, but you can get them excited about the material culture of their own communities.

Artifacts reflect the values and influences that were important to the individuals who made them and the society and time in which they were made. Artifacts can be viewed as making important cultural and historical statements.

The process of first-hand inspection, identification, and analysis of artifacts calls for creativity and visual literacy. The questions listed below can serve as signposts for helping students assess nonverbal clues and elicit meaningful information from artifacts--bringing the past to the present.

1. What is the object made of? Is it made of glass, wood, metal, ceramic, or natural fiber? Are these substances available locally?

2. What size is the object? Is it light or heavy and does its weight serve a purpose?

3. is the object pleasant to the touch and the eye?

4. Does it stand independently or is it part of something else?

5. How was the object made? Is it handmade or machine-made? Are there tool marks or finger marks?

6. Does it have the natural marks of age? Does it show signs of wear and tear? Has it been repaired?

7. What does the construction and form reveal about the level of artistry? Is it sophisticated or rustic in its execution and design?

8. Is there a pattern or design on the object? How has this decoration been applied?

9. How does it compare with other similar artifacts?

10. When and where might the object have been made? Are there any identifying names, labels, or symbols? Do these marks identify maker or place of origin?

11. Can you identify the function and purpose of the artifact? Was it ornamental or utilitarian? Was it a necessity or a luxury? Has this function changed over time?

12. What was the meaning of the object and how did people react and relate to it?

13. Who owned this artifact and why? What was the original owner's social and cultural background?

14. What does the artifact reveal about the community that made and used it?

15. What does it reveal about the person who used or collected it?

As you read the articles in this issue, perhaps you will find additional lesson ideas for bringing the past to the present.

Eldon Katter, Editor
COPYRIGHT 2004 Davis Publications, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2004, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:Editor's Comment; arrowheads
Author:Katter, Eldon
Publication:School Arts
Article Type:Editorial
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2004
Words:800
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