For visual thinkers, material objects may help ground students’ understanding of early American life.
Whether I am teaching about the ancient Mediterranean or early American life, I find that students often remember abstract ideas that we have covered better when they have a visual referent.
Many students, for example, remember the shift in New England theology from Calivinism to Arminianism to Unitarianism through the icons of the Death’s Head to Cherub to Willow and Urn (Deetz). Ideally these icons are not the end of their understanding of the concepts, but serve as a useful metonym in their memory palaces for the course.
Material culture can also help students visualize questions they didn’t even know they had. For example, this gravestone from Curaçao almost always challenges students’ perceptions about early American Jews and makes them curious about why someone would put a skull and crossbones on a Jewish stone (no, the deceased was not a pirate).