Lesson Plan – Western Maritime Social Studies

Introduction: On the Giinaruaq Mask display plaque at the State Library Archive Museum, a quote from a Katmai descendant reads, “there were spirit masks…once they were used they were put away and you were not to touch them or bother them.” This quote, along with a comment from my group member’s observation that the descriptions were written in the past tense (when in fact these cultures are still very much alive), brought me to think about the politics of museums and the power of one’s own cultural biases.

WHAT’S IN A MUSEUM?
Audience: High School Social Studies Class – AK History or Sociology
Objective: Understanding cultural exoticism, perception vs reality
Estimated time: 1 hour – 1.5 hours
Essential question(s): How do we view other cultures? What is the purpose of a museum?
Materials: Museum visit, Crafts (if going with option 2 below), Random object

(15 min) Students have a discussion on the history of museums perhaps, or if on a field-trip, take time to peruse the galleries in small groups and report back to the class on any interesting findings. Preparation could include providing students a sheet of terminologies or features of a museum for students to consider (i.e. architecture, flow, style of display, etc…)

(30 min) Still trying to decide between a few different ideas:
1. Students are presented with an object with limited background knowledge, and will be asked to write their own museum description plaque for the object. This allows for students to recognize how their own background knowledge and cultural understanding shapes how they view an object that is unfamiliar to them. The style of their writing could be analyzed as well. Unfortunately, this option only presents a written project.
2. Students are given a museum description of an object, and will be asked to construct the object using any given materials (3D, 2D, digital, photography, etc…) This may also help students see how everyone interprets cultural values differently (maybe the description ‘spiritual use’ could produce a cross for one student whereas a sculpted footprint for another) I got this idea from Peter, who kept saying “work backwards,” in response to other proposals. The question for me, is, how do I connect the product back to the point of seeing how museums can become areas of political contention.
3. The most controversial and difficult option, bring in an individual who is dressed in the indigenous regalia of that region, and have them stand in the middle, with students on the outside observing the individual and writing a “museum description” on that person. This will make students very uncomfortable, which I think is important, but prepared in the wrong way, the assignment could be very offensive and inappropriate. I want students to see how the indigenous cultures are still very much alive, and subtly touch upon cultural exoticism.

(15 min) Students present their descriptions or their creations, analyze them, and explain to the group how they came to their conclusions.

I think the essential question of how one person views another culture, can be relevant to almost any historical context. Systemically speaking, we see an example of this in the existence of museums, but personally speaking, we see how individuals can come to exoticize or appropriate a culture not of their own. I want students to move beyond descriptions and media sources that tell us what to think, and seek the truth for themselves. Feedback would be much appreciated.


Image Source: http://www.chronicle.co.zw/europes-forgotten-history-from-human-zoos-to-human-trophies/


 

12 thoughts on “Lesson Plan – Western Maritime Social Studies”

  1. Good stuff here Chris. Thinking on the options…

    The third is the most intriguing because it could potentially instruct on both cultural biases AND the cultural exoticism that is inherent to some extent in any museum. However, to make it a little “safer” you could just bring in photos of historical examples of offensively displayed/described museum exhibits (sometimes these were actually living people on display- this happened to some African tribal peoples here in America, maybe at a World’s Fair?). Then you could move onto the focus of option #1 and after they have written their descriptions of the unknown object and the object’s actual provenance is then revealed by you, the students can compare the historical exhibits to their own description. Of course, their descriptions of this un-introduced object will probably not be actively offensive (which is good) but will show their own cultural biases of course. Then compare and contrast. Or something along those lines….

  2. Shock value was a method used in order to exploit the woman pictured in the photo at the top. Her name was Sarah Baartman (Sartje). She was a young woman from South Africa who was put on display in Pickadilly Square in London and in France. Crowds of men and women would pay to fee to come in and admire her body that differed greatly from theirs and to even catch an up close view of her reproductive organs. Patrons could even touch her for an additional fee. This form of objectification and othering is not foreign to America where human zoos of the past are now referenced in history as side show acts. I am not sure that it is beneficial to reproduce the opportunity to do something similar when we are at present still countering social norms that still give way to racism and objectification.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WDcSXQ8QjsA

    1. I used the image of Sartje specifically because of how the politics around museums can be so objectifying and horrendous. I appreciate your input and your perspectives, because I think it allows me to see that maybe the way that I am designing a lesson plan is with the expectation that the students will have the same reaction when they see a living individual for a museum project (disgust, discomfort, etc…) I really want students, without me saying it (because then the lesson may become biased), to arrive at the conclusion of how museums are an institutionally represented way that one group views another culture (and definitely in this case, the dominant culture viewing the marginalized culture). I wonder who organized the pieces in the SLAM…after speaking with Sorrell in the archives, he and I were discussing who the audience is for the SLAM and who these displays are actually benefitting. I wonder if Alaska Natives feel a sense of pride or objectification in seeing the museum?

      1. With that said, I think that it would have been important to add a context in your larger description so that the image of her body was not being utilized in the same manner that your lesson is teaching against. She was put on display both as a living individual as well as one who had passed, all instances lacking value as a human or respect for who she was or what she endured.

  3. Another sad story in the history of cultural exoticism was Ishi – the last Yahi in CA. Wandered into civilization in 1911 . Put on display at SF Museum of Anthropology -thousands visit the exhibit and watch Ishi. They politely called him a – “living interpreter of his culture.” He contracts TB and dies.

    1. Do you think my lesson is too biased? How do I really connect the students to the core topics of ‘Perception vs Reality’, ‘Cultural exoticism’, and ‘The ways in which one’s cultural bias shapes how you view another’ in a way that is culturally responsive? I feel like I am making a political statement by talking about museums, and basically saying that museums are wrong or something like that. I want students to feel empowered in making their own judgments about museums, and not feel like their ways of perceiving other cultures are wrong? (but maybe they are?) argh

  4. Shock value was a method used in order to exploit the woman pictured in the photo at the top. Her name was Sarah Baartman (Sartje). She was a young woman from South Africa who was put on display in Pickadilly Square in London and in France. Crowds of men and women would pay to fee to come in and admire her body that differed greatly from theirs and to even catch an up close view of her reproductive organs. Patrons could even touch her for an additional fee. This form of objectification and othering is not foreign to America where human zoos of the past are now referenced in history as side show acts. I am not sure that it is beneficial to reproduce the opportunity to do something similar when we are at present still countering social norms that still give way to racism and objectification.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WDcSXQ8QjsA

  5. Chris, Cecilia and Peter I like this conversation. I do think you are on to a great subject, Chris, and I think it will be great to put heads together to see how it can play out. From talking to you about this lesson, I feel that you are coming to it from the right place that maybe this ‘rough draft’ didn’t portray. But, Cecelia I am very excited to hear your advice in approaching a lesson like this. I look forward to working on it with you all!

  6. Many of the words used in this comment stream are very enlightening. I haven’t always had the vocabulary to express my emotions on these topics, and I appreciate the dialogue from all the parties involved. Chris I think your idea is (obviously) provocative and important. I like your goal of what you want to talk about (cultural biases), I also realize I am very ignorant on how to execute this topic in the most appropriate way as I had no idea about the background information that Cecelia shared. I hope to learn more from everyone on how to approach and deconstruct this because I feel it is conversations like this that are necessary and important for us to understand as teachers.

  7. Hey Chris, I’m really late on this one – it must have slipped past my feed. Anyway, this is a tough one but so important. I like the idea of the “museum description”, using it to analyze audience, media, language used, and how it evokes a feeling of distant past. Maybe to guide student’s thought you could start with “museum description” examples of some of your own personal objects – some with more meaning than others. Show the difference between reading a plaque versus you talking about it, what it means, and how you use it. Then maybe it would easier to move to a more in depth analysis of the role of museums and a couple of the examples mentioned above. Ishi has a book, possibly a movie and/or documentary (I’m pretty sure documentary footage that was pretty disturbing).

    As for the use of someone in traditional regalia, that might be tricky, mostly because I don’t know if I’ve seen someone wearing traditional regalia (as we see it in the museums) outside of our events, so that might be an uncomfortable situation for someone wearing it or being asked to, in that case a vest might work.

    An interesting side note and why I was so draw to this post and lesson idea; my mom has been on display in museums in a couple of different ways in her lifetime. They used a molding of her face to create a statue that would wear a hat she carved and a staff she carved for an exhibit on whales that traveled around the country. She was also ‘on display’ at the Smithsonian in DC, we (since my brother and I were there with her) were in a sectioned off area, my mom had some of her finished pieces there and then had a piece she was carving there as well. My mom made sure it was very interactive with people that came up; making my brother and I (both of use still in elementary school) show some simple v-cut carvings and making him speak and explain things while she carved. She ‘pushed’ her way into getting staff to take her to the archives, and of course took us along and we got to see some amazing stuff that most don’t have the chance to because the museum is ‘preserving’ it for us. Having two young kids in the archives probably really stressed them out, I don’t know how she convinced them to let us go with her. It was an interesting experience to look back on when I was older, and you could look at it either way. I can’t speak for my mom but I do appreciate that she made her experience what she wanted – a chance to explain her ‘traditional contemporary’ artwork and connections to our values and beliefs (every person got the same Raven/Eagle marriage that I got my whole life =) ). My friend interviewed her in college for her class on Native Americans in museums. Here’s a link to the professor’s bio, which has some articles in it that might help in the future development of your lesson. http://history.ucsc.edu/faculty/profiles/singleton.php?&singleton=true&cruz_id=lonetree

    Sorry for taking up so much space, hopefully you’re lesson is going well and I’d love to hear any updates.

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