Learning Context at the Alaska State Museum
|my favorite mannequin|
from "Rainforest Warriors"
Of course, the state museum would be an awesome place for school field trips, but I think my visit also reminded me of the importance of contextualizing objects—not just looking at them. While the museum did supply a good amount of interpretive information in each of their displays, an educator should press their students to think critically about the context in which any given object was found historically.
|a lovely old rifle and case|
If I had students examine this rifle, I would make sure to help them understand that a person would have to have serious bargaining power or valuable resources in order to acquire a top-of-the-line weapon from foreigners. In this case, probably, the bargaining power the Dene had was in harvesting furs—the lifeblood of the Hudson's Bay Company. Only in seeking that valuable resource would the HBC give out volatile items like guns, and the two parties likely understood that more guns would enable the Dene to gather more furs.
|beautiful Tlingit ravenstail|
regalia by Kay Field Parker
Please note that this is not a critique of the State Museum at all: They likely provide tour guides to wintertime student groups anyway, which is perfect. I only mean to emphasize the importance of contextualization to historical artifacts and history education in general. Individual moments, people, or phenomena of the past cannot be understood without knowing the particular conditions and circumstances that surrounded them. History is all about context, really, as history is the context for our lives. The State Museum is a wonderful place to bring that context to life.