3D Digital Artifact Collection

Artifact-Based Lessons: More Suggestions

Are you ready for more classroom ideas?  The objects below provide a wide range of approaches to different eras and themes.  Here are some very interesting and engaging artifacts along with some of the background information on each of them. You will find more information and assistance at https://app.artifactsteach.com in the context support for each item. Here we go!

The copper kettle artifact.1. The Copper Kettle(s): there are two copper kettles in the artifacts gallery. The first is the one that is pictured to the right. It is from the 17th century. The Hudson Bay Company manufactured it, brought it to Canada, and traded it with the Native Americans. Their company trademark is on the lip of the kettle. Copper kettles were the first items traded with Native Americans along the East Coast of North America. Their importance is indicated in the second kettle, a war prize from the Ute Wars of the late 1800’s in Colorado. This one item, the copper kettle, improved the lives of Native Americans across the continent and, at the same time, is representative of the beginning of the end of traditional Native American culture. The context support documents should provide a great deal of information for discussion of the impacts of trade and the effects of cultural exchange. These kettles work for discussions of initial contact, the French trade especially, and the relationships among Native American groups. 

Toy savings bank artifact.

2. The Toy Savings Bank: this item from the late 19th century can be used to discuss the changes brought about by the Industrial Revolution in the United States. Topics that can be generated here are: an emphasis on saving money in abank (toy or not), the support of the US government for capitalism in the late 19th century, and the ideas that support a shift from an agricultural society to an industrial/capital dominated economy. On a more modern note, this item can be used to personalize the “Financial Literacy” curriculum that is currently required in many states. Some questions to ponder: Why a bank that is shaped like a cash register? Why ring up a total each time money is added?

The "shadow ghee" artifact.3. The “Shadow Ghee”: this is a fun item for students to analyze and determine its use. This object was important in western mining communities after the Civil War. While it looks like it might have been used as a lamp, it was really a “homemade flashlight.” This is an excellent example of repurposing an item. This particular object was often found in and around Leadville, Colorado, elevation 10,000 feet above sea level. Beyond the standard questions that deal with post-Civil War mining, some other thought-provoking questions might be: how did a maple syrup can from Vermont get to a mining camp at 10,000 feet in Colorado in the 1880’s? What does it tell us about transportation, intercontinental commerce, and the state of the mining industry at that time? Why would a miner construct such an item? If he could buy maple syrup, why not just buy a flashlight?

Each of this objects was created for a specific purpose, but carries with it a larger purpose and a larger story; determining the use and intent for each of these objects is an engaging and educational exercise.


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  • “Every object has a story to tell if you know how to read it.”
    – Henry Ford
  • “Dealing with objects is a great way to teach the different steps involved in analyzing different kinds of materials. With just a little background, you can get students to engage with entirely new materials in extremely fruitful ways.”
    – Anita Nikkanen
    Harvard University
  • “Using objects helps students develop important intellectual skills.”
    – John Hennigar Shuh
    Curator, Nova Scotia Museum
  • "Whenever I used objects in my EFL classroom, I was surprised by how many questions I would get. I was especially excited when students who usually sat quietly were tempted to ask a question based on my object.”
    – Jenny Wei
    Specialist, National Museum of American History
  • When we examine the parts, we get a new perspective on the whole. There is nothing like holding a dinosaur bone, or the smell of cedar baskets…”
    – Burke Museum
    University of Washington, Seattle WA
  • “Every object has a story, right? Actually that’s a bit limiting. Every object has multiple stories.”
    – Rob Walker
    designer of Significant Objects and How They Got That Way

Teacher Questions