Wednesday, December 14, 2011

What's in the attic?

One of the ways we started off our SS10 Heritage Project was to ask about the kinds of artifacts that students knew about in their homes. What's the oldest thing in the house? What would you save if your house was on fire (the family and pets are safe, the electronics are covered by insurance, and we'll assume your data is backed up)? What object has the most interesting story behind it? Many students came up with stuff right away -- photo albums, war medals, antique clocks, ancient tools, and so on.  For me it would probably be a shelf full of rare books and a small box full of relics, like the coins that survived my great-grandfather's house fire in the 1930s. A few students had artifacts that were more than 200-years old (e.g. spoon, hymnal, travel-desk), but many more had no clue. These students were encouraged to find out what was lurking in their attic or basement, maybe even their mantel (if they still have such a thing), and start asking about how their family history, for better or worse, is expressed in the way their home is configured now. Many of these objects have made their way to our classroom (physically or virtuually through photo and video) and have anchored student presentations. Yesterday M.J. presented her project, describing her parents' life in South Africa before and (briefly) after apartheid.  Her ancestors had, for the most part, gotten on well with black families and had received gifts or purchased mementos over the years signifying their respect for indigenous culture. One of the objects was a wildebeest shield with cudgel and ceremonial spear (shown in the photo above) given to M.J.'s grandfather by a Zulu chief. What's in your attic? What artifacts have special meaning for you or your family?

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