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Developing the Historical Sense: The Material Culture of the Historical Imagination, 1880-1920

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Abstract:

“How, then, is history made?” asked nineteenth-century historian Mary Sheldon Barnes (1850-1898) in the opening to her 1885 textbook Studies in General History. For Sheldon Barnes, history was made from a range of documents and objects. It was constantly re-interpreted and re-presented by students for whom, she explained, history was about individual discovery. Sheldon Barnes was the daughter of E.A. Sheldon, the popularizer of the object lesson teaching method in the United States. From an early age, she was trained to move from the study of actual, concrete things to the development of abstract ideas about those things. Her innovation was to apply this method to the study of historical sources as a college professor and an author of popular history schoolbooks. Sheldon Barnes believed that through studying documents and historic things children would develop what she called a “historical sense” and would be better able to make decisions in their own lives. Working from a range of historical sources, she argued, children would learn how to form judgments and to assess both logical and moral claims, as opposed to simply repeating familiar stories about Columbus or Washington.

This paper explores the ways children (starting at age seven) and secondary school students were taught this “historical sense” through interaction with a broad range of material teachers: political documents, literature, and especially “the bric-a-brac” of history – “the colonial uniform, the old delft plate, the broken glass from Hadrian's villa.” I argue that Sheldon Barnes employed material things to develop children’s reasoning abilities, as opposed to merely standing in for established historical narratives. Her methodology considered historical things to be pedagogical objects, and falls outside the facile Colonial Revival frame contemporary scholars often apply to material culture-based studies from the late nineteenth century. My analysis grounds Sheldon Barnes’s theory of history pedagogy in the close study of two schools: The Marlborough Street School in Boston in the 1880s, and the Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute in Virginia from the 1880s into the 1920s. In both schools, objects were used to teach students history. At the Marlborough Street School, educator Mary Alling-Aber created an "experiment in education” founded on the sensory experiences of her elite, white pupils, while at Hampton, a range of collections from around the world were employed to instruct African American and Native American students about historical topics. By placing these actual classroom lessons in the context of Sheldon Barnes’s approach to history—which was shared by faculty at these two schools—this paper calls for a more nuanced understanding of the place of material culture in the study of history and aims to discover the hidden lessons nineteenth-century historians found in old things.
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Association:
Name: American Studies Association Annual Meeting
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http://www.theasa.net


Citation:
URL: http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p509150_index.html
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MLA Citation:

Carter, Sarah. "Developing the Historical Sense: The Material Culture of the Historical Imagination, 1880-1920" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Studies Association Annual Meeting, Hilton Baltimore, Baltimore, MD, <Not Available>. 2014-11-25 <http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p509150_index.html>

APA Citation:

Carter, S. A. "Developing the Historical Sense: The Material Culture of the Historical Imagination, 1880-1920" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Studies Association Annual Meeting, Hilton Baltimore, Baltimore, MD <Not Available>. 2014-11-25 from http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p509150_index.html

Publication Type: Internal Paper
Abstract: “How, then, is history made?” asked nineteenth-century historian Mary Sheldon Barnes (1850-1898) in the opening to her 1885 textbook Studies in General History. For Sheldon Barnes, history was made from a range of documents and objects. It was constantly re-interpreted and re-presented by students for whom, she explained, history was about individual discovery. Sheldon Barnes was the daughter of E.A. Sheldon, the popularizer of the object lesson teaching method in the United States. From an early age, she was trained to move from the study of actual, concrete things to the development of abstract ideas about those things. Her innovation was to apply this method to the study of historical sources as a college professor and an author of popular history schoolbooks. Sheldon Barnes believed that through studying documents and historic things children would develop what she called a “historical sense” and would be better able to make decisions in their own lives. Working from a range of historical sources, she argued, children would learn how to form judgments and to assess both logical and moral claims, as opposed to simply repeating familiar stories about Columbus or Washington.

This paper explores the ways children (starting at age seven) and secondary school students were taught this “historical sense” through interaction with a broad range of material teachers: political documents, literature, and especially “the bric-a-brac” of history – “the colonial uniform, the old delft plate, the broken glass from Hadrian's villa.” I argue that Sheldon Barnes employed material things to develop children’s reasoning abilities, as opposed to merely standing in for established historical narratives. Her methodology considered historical things to be pedagogical objects, and falls outside the facile Colonial Revival frame contemporary scholars often apply to material culture-based studies from the late nineteenth century. My analysis grounds Sheldon Barnes’s theory of history pedagogy in the close study of two schools: The Marlborough Street School in Boston in the 1880s, and the Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute in Virginia from the 1880s into the 1920s. In both schools, objects were used to teach students history. At the Marlborough Street School, educator Mary Alling-Aber created an "experiment in education” founded on the sensory experiences of her elite, white pupils, while at Hampton, a range of collections from around the world were employed to instruct African American and Native American students about historical topics. By placing these actual classroom lessons in the context of Sheldon Barnes’s approach to history—which was shared by faculty at these two schools—this paper calls for a more nuanced understanding of the place of material culture in the study of history and aims to discover the hidden lessons nineteenth-century historians found in old things.


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