A casual visitor to Maine Historical Society last week might have noticed something unusual in the museum gallery. The space was filled with third graders, who were not only observing objects and reading labels but also checking the tags on each other’s clothing, discussing the merits of silkworms and flax seeds, and sketching silhouttes of their classmates.
There are seven classes from Lyseth and Reiche Elementary Schools participating in the fall session of this year’s “Local History, Local Schools” partnership program. Each participating class meets with MHS Education Coordinator Bridget McCormick three times over the course of a semester before presenting their original projects at a Final Celebration with friends and family (and snacks!).
Every “Local History, Local Schools” curriculum is designed around the MHS museum, which currently hosts the exhibit “Dressing Up, Standing Out, Fitting In: Adornment and Identity in Maine.” By the time students enter the exhibit, they have already been introduced to key themes, keywords and museum objects in a classroom pre-visit.
At the museum, students break into groups and work together to answer questions about dressing up in Maine over the past three hundred years. They examine where clothing was made two hundred years ago, and where it is made today. Among other unique items, the exhibit features beaver fur top hats, tortoiseshell combs, and an earring made with human hair. Students investigate how these items compare with the materials in today’s sneakers and sweatshirts. And they discuss what they wear today to dress up, stand out, or fit in: soccer uniforms, Halloween costumes, a new hijab for Eid, and the recently-ubiquitous Silly Bandz.
To complete their involvement in the program, students produce an original primary source documenting an important article of clothing or accessory in their own lives. Some students are focusing on family heirlooms, while others have chosen roller blades or favorite T-shirts. In December, this work will be installed in the Showcase Gallery at MHS in time for the Final Celebration. The general public will be able to view the student work on display through March. The final projects are always a creative and exciting window into the minds of the state’s youngest historians, and should not be missed.
This post was written by MHS Education Assistant Rachel Miller.