By Samantha Dietel, Editor in Chief
A visit from the Milwaukee Public Museum allowed some students at the West Bend High Schools to temporarily become archaeologists.
Students in Nicole Di Bernardo’s Advanced Placement World History course experienced an exclusive traveling exhibit from the Milwaukee Public Museum Monday during seventh period. The exhibit, which was part of the museum’s MPM on the Move Digging up Discoveries program, exposed students to archaeology and highlighted how artifacts can reveal clues about cultures.
Maisie Buntin, the museum’s visiting outreach program coordinator, first led a presentation and discussion about the study of artifacts. Students were asked to differentiate artifacts versus specimens, as well as compare archaeology and history.
Students also learned that when examining an artifact, they should consider its material, wear patterns, any written or drawn designs and intended purpose. To emphasize how much can be inferred about a person or culture based on an item, Buntin displayed images of backpacks left behind by immigrants at the Mexico-U.S. border for students to analyze and draw conclusions about demographics.
After the introductory presentation, students were allowed to handle several different artifacts from around the world, including an ostrich egg water holder from the San people of southern Africa and a sample of silk needlework from China, among other items.
West junior Lily Mottet particularly enjoyed the hands-on experience with the artifacts.
“I absolutely adored it,” Mottet said. “The fact that they brought in things that I could actually physically touch was so interesting. I love history and the fact that we can be hands-on with it because so many people think it’s just reading out of a textbook, studying names and dates. This is what I think is the cool part of history and it’s just not an experience you get every day.”
Lauren Chamberlain, a West junior, also appreciated the museum’s traveling exhibit and expressed that studying history is imperative.
“It’s important to understand where we’ve come from to know where we’re going,” Chamberlain said.
Buntin says that she enjoys visiting high schools like WBHS because she can teach students about the critical thinking involved with archaeology.
“I really love being able to come out to where schools are because a lot of times there’s not a lot of resources to send people to the museum, but it really gives a more in-depth view and understanding of how this type of thinking works,” Buntin said. “The kind of extrapolation and critical thinking of looking at an artifact or looking at an object and understanding what that tells you about an entire culture.”
Because Di Bernardo’s students are beginning the year by learning about hunting and gathering societies, she feels that the visit from the museum fits in well with the curriculum.
“When archaeologists and historians and scientists are looking at these (hunting and gathering) civilizations, it’s difficult for us to know how they work,” Di Bernardo said. “So we have to look at artifacts and, they’re like puzzle pieces—we have to try to fit them together to get an idea of these people and how they lived. Thinking about one of these programs that the museum offers, where they bring in these artifacts and you get to kind of play junior archaeologists, I thought at the beginning of the year, it’s a great way to show how there’s a lot of guesswork in putting puzzle pieces together to find out about societies.”
Di Bernardo says that about three years ago, she had the opportunity to handle artifacts as part of a professional development program at Ohio State University. When she received an email from the MPM that advertised its new travel exhibits, she felt inspired to let her students have a similar experience.
“When I got that email and thought back to the experience I had, I thought of how memorable it would be for students to be able to handle artifacts that people used thousands of years ago,” she said.
Di Bernardo also expressed the importance of students being able to expand their curiosity.
“It is great for students to be able to experience the outside world inside and curiosity is something that should be grown throughout the years,” Di Bernardo said. “You should never lose your curiosity.”
Though he was only present for part of the exhibit, West principal Ralph Schlass was excited by what he saw.
“I like history, anthropology and archaeology so I was favorably impressed,” he said. “Our students were really good at looking for clues in the artifacts that told a story, according to one of the presenters. I asked later to sit down with the staff from the Milwaukee Public Museum to share my positive impressions of their work. I was only jealous I couldn’t stay the entire class period because I had another meeting to attend.”
The Advanced Placement World History course allows students to study civilizations and history from all around the globe.
“(AP World History) is a great way to learn about past civilizations, but what students really get out of it is history keeps repeating itself,” Di Bernardo said. “You realize that as humans, we’re all interconnected and we have so much more in common than we have different.”
Di Bernardo also says that few students typically sign up for the class. This year’s group consists of only 18 students.
“Because of the value of this course, it will run with smaller numbers than some other classes,” Schlass said. “AP World History plays an important role in helping students understand our past, teaching tolerance and preparing students for college.”
Di Bernardo believes that hardworking students with an interest in history should consider signing up for the Advanced Placement World History course.
“I always tell people if you’re a big, fat history nerd and you also are willing to put the work in, it’s a really awesome course,” she said.
(Top image: West social studies teacher Nicole Di Bernardo observes as her Advanced Placement World History students examine a fireplace trammel. Photo by Samantha Dietel, Editor in Chief.)