There can be no better way to start the year in a world history course than to visit this site: A History of the World in 100 Objects. A collaboration between the British Museum and the BBC, this site allows you to travel through time, examining representative objects from different places throughout the world. These objects tell us so much about the time and place that they were created — but they often leave even more to the imagination.
The companion BBC site is archived (which means that parts of it don’t work properly anymore), but still has images, podcasts and video.
The site has explanatory text about the object, and about its “life” at the British Museum, as well as a podcast of the original radio show about the object. The shows are narrated by museum curators and interview people who have interesting information and perspectives on the object — in other words, it’s not always an archaeologist or historian, because you can get new insight into sculpture by interviewing a contemporary sculptor or cooking utensils by interviewing a chef.
Let the kids play around with the sites, and select a few objects. Have the class come up with a few keywords to use as search terms, and look up their context in World History: An Interactive Approach. This can be a great exercise to get students comfortable with the product, and to familiarize them with its components, as information will be found all over — in the overviews, chronologies, biographies, case studies, and so on.
You can enlarge on this lesson throughout the year by picking objects (either actual, physical objects in your possession or virtual objects from the Internet) to illustrate the time periods you’re studying. Use the objects to challenge your students: can they come up with new information, either about the object or about the society that created it? What objects would they choose to illustrate the era? You and your students can get ideas for objects from the timeline by selecting the filter “Contributor” and choosing to see objects submitted to the project by individuals. (If you want more guidance on how to use objects, there’s an edX course developed in conjunction with the Smithsonian, with classes starting October 6, 2015.)
Engaging students starting the new school year can be difficult, but using these terrifically-presented objects to explore WorldView’s “World History” can open the door to interactive learning. Share your ideas/experiences in the comments.