The front desk in Grade 4 teacher Emily Schimelman’s classroom was full of state-of-the-art whaling artifacts as the students welcomed special guest Ms. Marisa from Mystic Seaport Museum to partake in the Curator’s Challenge as part of a primary source workshop activity.
Seated in a row of desks on the lower floor of the Whitson building, the students greeted Ms. Marisa as she introduced herself and asked the activity prompt question, “why is it important to study history?” One student eagerly replied “learning from the past helps us understand more” while another commented that “it gives us background into past events and how it can influence current events.” Ms. Marisa followed up asking questions about primary sources, such as documents, and how they can help provide context into historical events.
“There is so much history hidden in artifacts and having the students be able to hold and study them in person helps spark their thinking skills,” commented Mrs. Schimelman. “Today’s activity brings our unit of study to life and students became history detectives for an hour.”
Transitioning to the activity titled “Maritime Curator’s Challenge,” Ms. Marisa explained the premise, which was to pretend the class worked as museum curators and were the first to discover these artifacts. It was the job of the group to analyze all the artifacts and determine their significance and what each one was used for by crew members during whaling ship voyages. At the end, students presented their exhibit’s ideas and objects to the class.
One-by-one, each student approached the desk and chose three artifacts to study. The artifacts included a green prism light, oil and oil lamp, tea light, Baleen whale jaw, candles, scrimshaw whale tooth, and a whaling toggle. Working independently, the students spent time observing the objects, drawing the object on an activity worksheet, and describing what they saw. Once the students finished, they reported what they believed their objects to be and why they would be of use and important in whaling voyages.
Following the activity, Ms. Marisa explained each artifact and how it was used by the crew member aboard the whaling ships. The prism was used on the deck of the ship to attract moonlight and provide guiding light to the captain, while the oil was used to light candles and lamps along with various machinery including clocks, watches, and typewriters. The toggle was primarily used by harpooners to catch the whales during the hunting process.
“Artifacts are more than just objects, they are treasures full of stories and tales that transport you to another world and time period,” noted Ms. Marisa.