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The Object of History: Teaching American History Through Artifacts

Dublin Core


The Object of History: Teaching American History Through Artifacts


Grant Proposal

Project Item Type Metadata


The Object of History: Teaching American History Through Artifacts


The strength of history museums lies in their collections, their objects. But students and teachers often lack the skills to make sense of historical objects, to analyze them closely and tease out their larger historical significance. Many students aren’t even in a position to visit a museum, making it even more difficult for them to engage in close analysis of historical objects. The Object of History, which will be developed by the Center for History and New Media (CHNM) at George Mason University (GMU), responds to both of these problems, providing a new model for bringing museum objects and expertise to students in remote classrooms and for teaching them how to engage and analyze these artifacts to learn about key themes in American history. Through six web-based “object lessons”—organized chronologically and in alignment with the standard high school curriculum—The Object of History will teach important themes in U.S. History through virtual representations and interpretations of iconic objects in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History (NMAH). In doing so, the project will not only provide a much-needed educational resource for students and teachers nationwide, it will also provide a cost-effective, innovative, and replicable model for history museums seeking new ways to educate audiences and disseminate collections.

Start Date


End Date



Roy Rosenzweig


Sharon Leon


Eleanor Greene

Content Experts

Barbara Clark Smith
James Gardner
David Kobrin
Elizabeth Butler


Judith Gradwohl
Matthew MacArthur
Benjamin Bloom
Patrick Coleman


planning and implementation, The Object of History will draw on the expertise of a planning and advisory committee that will include curators, museum educators, historians, teachers, web designers, and programmers. This diverse group of advisors will be drawn from the staff of NMAH, CHNM, and school districts in the National Capitol area. Through a series of three planning meetings during the first six months of the grant, the committee will oversee the project and make specific decisions about the historical, pedagogical, and material cultural content of the “object lessons.”
make the final selection of the six objects and topics from the following tentative list of ten: 1750s Silver teapot (American Revolution); Sunstone from the Mormon Temple at Nauvoo, Illinois (antebellum reform and religion); Mary Todd Lincoln dress made by ex-slave Elizabeth Keckley (slavery and Civil War); White/colored signs (Jim Crow and segregation); Buffalo Bill Wild West Show Poster and Theodore Roosevelt’s Chaps (Western settlement and mythology); Ballot Box (Progressivism and political reform); Model T Ford (industrialization and consumer culture); NRA eagles (New Deal State); first Barbie doll (women and gender in the 1950s); Woolworth lunch counter (civil rights).
work with committee, educators and curators, to storyboard each object lesson and develop the teaching and contextual materials to be included in each Teaching the Object of History section. This phase will also include the writing and editing of “How to Read Historical Objects,” the more general set of materials that will accompany these object-specific lesson plans, documents, links, and readings.
development of the of the six object clusters
the design and building of the interactive technology that will be used for the live Curator Chats
recruitment and publicity plan that will result in registering high school U.S. history teachers who plan to have their classes participate in the interactive phase of the project
twenty-four on-line chats (four for each of the “six object lessons”) in which NMAH curators will interact with high school students around the country. the planning committee will reconvene three times to review and comment upon the effectiveness of the “object lessons.” And because the six interactive “object lessons” will be spread out over six months, we will be able to respond to these comments, address concerns in midstream, learn lessons from experience, and make changes accordingly to improve the quality and effectiveness of the project even while it continues.
we will embark upon a series of activities designed to disseminate our framework for interactive educational programming to smaller museums. These efforts will include developing a set of downloadable object lesson templates, publishing articles and advertisements about our experience, making conference presentations, and providing five free consultancies to other institutions
Second, we will use quantitative and qualitative evaluation techniques to assess whether we have achieved our project goals


Institute of Museum and Library Services

Funding Amount



Smithsonian Institution National Museum of American History


Students and Teachers


HNN Object of History - small logo
Roofed Lamp
Design Mock Ups
Design Mock Ups
Design Mock Ups
Design Mock Ups
Design Mock Ups
Design Mock Ups
Museum Sketch
HNN Banner
Object of History- email
Jefferson Writing Desk Image
Gold Nugget Image
Lincoln-Keckley Dress Image
Image of Voting Machine
Smithsonian X 3D Explorer Screenshot 1
Smithsonian X 3D Explorer Screenshot 2
Gold Nugget Explore Page of the Object of History Website Screenshot
Image of Woolworth’s Lunch Counter
Image of Short-Handled Hoe
Object of History Main Page Screenshot
Object of History Teacher Homepage Screenshot
Object of History Forum Page Partial Screenshot
Aerial Photo of Smithsonian's National Museum of American History



“The Object of History: Teaching American History Through Artifacts,” RRCHNM20, accessed February 24, 2024, https://20.rrchnm.org/items/show/202.

Item Relations

This Item foaf:fundedBy Item: Institute of Museum and Library Services
This Item Partner Item: Smithsonian Institution National Museum of American History
This Item Staff Item: Roy Rosenzweig
This Item Staff Item: Sharon Leon
This Item Staff Item: Eleanor Greene