Nov. 20, 2015—There’s something about holding an object in your hands that connects you to a place in a way that no Internet photo can.
Ninth graders in NMH’s Humanities I class discovered this firsthand during a fall mini-course, “Conversations with Objects,” in which they handled and researched varied objects collected by NMH alumni.
Teacher Jennifer Keator of the Religious Studies and Philosophy Department brought her class to the library, where Archives Assistant Sara Reid let them examine archival curiosities. A powder horn. A key to Silliman Hall, which famously burned in 1965. A mezuzah from Jerusalem. A rubber nose guard from a long-ago football game. Pairs of students chose an object for closer study.
Katie Segal ’19 selected a wooden pencil box from the 1920s with a watercolor landscape painted on the top.
“Initially, I thought that working with historical objects would be hard to relate to and difficult to connect to today’s NMH. However, it proved to be quite the opposite,” she says. “Having this small piece of NMH history — which actually connected me to someone who was a student here, just as I am currently — helped me understand further the importance of NMH’s rich history.”
Segal discovered that the box belonged to Virginia Macleod, an NMH student in 1927. “I realized that we as NMH students have completely unique experiences, but we continue to be bound together by the sense of place we feel within the NMH community,” she explains.
The objects “speak”
Each object gradually revealed its story and raised questions for the student-researchers. They had to find and weigh evidence, deciding which resources to trust, which to reject, and what information to take with a grain of salt.
And Keator was there to remind them to ask the big questions — ”Why?” and “So what?”
She says the goal was to get students thinking about global sustainability by awakening their sense of connection to other places, times, and peoples. “Humanities I has four essential questions, one of which is, ‘What is my place?’” explains Keator. “This lesson helped students move beyond the literal understanding of place and into the deeper concept of place as connections between people through time and space.”
Garcia Lu ’19 got the message. By researching the history of a lead printing block used in a 1955 issue of The Hermonite, he learned about more than just a 20th-century newspaper printing technique.
“Before working with the objects, I simply saw NMH as a school community with students and faculty; nothing else. My object’s story, the school newspaper, helped me add a historical element to the place of NMH,” he says.
Reid hopes the archival collection will be used as a teaching tool more often. “The students got to tell 11 stories from the archives,” she says. “There are lots of stories left to be told.”