Thursday, June 14, 2012

Teaching Shelburne Museum II: A Centennial Expo

A few weeks back I wrote about a partnership between Shelburne Museum, the Green Mountain Writing Project, and Turning Points in American History that encourages Vermont educators to use primary sources, including museum collections, when studying the Civil War and Reconstruction era. I promised to share more about the study group that meets at the Museum, including innovative ways that participating teachers are engaging their students with history. I had to look no further than the 1876 World's Fair, which arrived at the Museum on a sunny day this spring.

"Lamb & St. Lawrence Leech Co.," presented by Vermont educators Jennifer Theoret (pictured) and Cate Lamb, advertised historical remedies in the Apothecary Shop.
The Turning Points educators modeled their Centennial Exposition after National History Day, a competition in which students study a historic topic using a variety of primary and secondary sources and present their research in the form of a paper, performance, exhibit, website, or documentary. Our educators set up temporary exhibits around the Museum grounds on nineteenth-century topics including needlepoint samplers, the history of footwear, and Civil War-era amputation. 

They brought to life several objects that I had seen before but never studied, such as this prosthetic leg on display at the Doctor's Office upstairs in the General Store. I learned that amputations were increasingly common in the Civil War as a result of military advancements like the minie ball, a particularly destructive lead bullet used by the Union army. The Turning Points teachers also made compelling connections, as in the needlepoint display that linked the content of early American samplers to the unique roles that women played in the abolitionist movement. I was surprised to discover that explicit anti-slavery inscriptions appear on textiles dating as early as the 1830s.
A prosthetic leg at the General Store.
Each exhibit included a detailed lesson plan relating to the content of the exhibit to the elementary, middle, or high school classroom. My visit to the 1876 World's Fair was a unique opportunity to see Shelburne Museum's collection from a different angle, and it opened my mind to ever-new teaching possibilities. Stay tuned for a post about the Green Mountain Writing Project's role in this unique collaboration. Thank you, Turning Points!

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