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A tangible connection with the past

May 31, 2021

Header Image: Exhibits representing the Northern War (1845-1846) - a common learning focus for education groups exploring consequences of Te Tiriti/The Treaty

Exposure to artefacts brings them closer to the past in a way that words alone often cannot do, bringing to life the stories about how our nation, communities and cultures came to be.

Students have opportunities to make emotional connections to narratives presented in the exhibits. Objects can best be understood in terms of their historic context; some have ambiguous meanings and can be interpreted differently depending on this context or who views them. Museum-based learning helps students understand the historical value of objects, respect diverse cultures and understand multiculturalism.

Beyond the basic questions such as what an object is, what it is made of, who made it and when, why and how, students begin to inquire deeper into cultural values and assumptions (their own and those of the object’s original makers and users), and symbolic meanings.

Objects help students develop historical empathy — the ability to recognize that people who lived in the past thought about and felt differently about issues than we do today. How did they interact with each other, what did they believe and value? As educators, we love seeing students’ curiosity and sense of wonder as they unravel the stories that our exhibits tell and the way that this can strengthen ideas of heritage, belonging, and authenticity.

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