Where does history come from?

As educators, we often ask students to read a text and answer questions about what the words can tell us about an event or period in the past. Similarly to texts, objects can also teach students about history and allow those who study them to learn about individual stories as well as the broader historical context from which the object is collected. Use this time capsule activity to introduce the importance of objects in history to your students.

To prepare for this activity:

  1. Label the board, or a large piece of paper hung on the wall, with “Our Time Capsule.”
  2. Make sure the room is set up with space for students to make art at desks or tables.

Activity Plan

  1. Have a student explain what a time capsule is. Make sure students understand that a time capsule is an example of physical things that hold meaning for people and that represent a specific period and place in time. Explain that you are going to make an example time capsule to capture the lives of students in your classroom as they are at this moment in time.
  2. Provide students with markers/crayons/etc. and a piece of paper. Each student should think for a minute about what objects they would include in a time capsule that would help the people who open it understand who they are.
  3. Give students 5-10 minutes to draw/write about their object on the small piece of paper.
  4. One-by-one, have students come up and attach their objects to the time capsule and briefly explain what they’ve contributed and why they’ve chosen that object.
    1. If you have a large number of students, you may want to allow them to share in small groups and attach the objects afterward.
  5. Explain that while some objects are organized in time capsules or museums, there are many objects that are important to history in our homes and communities.
    1. Have the students suggest what kinds of objects might be important to future generations. What kinds of objects would they like to see from the past? What interesting objects have they seen in museums or other places that made them curious about history? Are there objects in their families that tell their histories?
    2. If they would like, students can focus this discussion on Jewish ritual or cultural objects. What objects are special to Jews in general? What “Jewish” objects are important in their family or community?
  6. Introduce the Oral History project.
    1. This is a good point to introduce the project and to give students a timeline for the project as well as a letter to families explaining the scope of the project since students will most likely need support from parents or other family members in coordinating an interview.
    2. Explain to students that they will need to contact an older family member, friend, or community member whom they would like to interview. Students should ask the individual to share an object that is important or special to them as the focus of the interview. Make sure that students are prepared to borrow the object or take a photo of it to share at a later part of the project.
      1. You may choose to emphasize specific objects for your class to focus on, for instance Jewish ritual objects, the coming-of-age/b’nai mitzvah experience, items from childhood, holiday celebrations, old photographs, etc.
      2. Objects can take many forms. Some examples include:
        1. Ritual objects
        2. Toys
        3. Clothes
        4. Old letters/documents
        5. Photographs
        6. Jewelry

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Where does history come from?." (Viewed on August 20, 2019) <https://jwa.org/node/22145>.

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