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Everyday Objects



  • Describe the pioneering work of researcher Edward W. Nelson.
  • Identify everyday objects that aid in understanding a culture.





Social studies, language arts



1. Tell your students that most of what we know today about traditional Bering Sea Eskimo life is due to the work of one man. Explain that in the late nineteenth century (1878-81) Smithsonian Institution researcher Edward W. Nelson journeyed to the largely unexplored Bering Sea region of Alaska. There Nelson found a culture virtually unknown to the outside world, and he vigorously set out to document it. He traveled more than five thousand miles by foot, dogsled, and kayak and amassed a vast collection of artifacts, observations, and photographs. Among the Eskimo people Nelson was known as "the man who buys good-for-nothing things," because of his zeal for collecting everyday objects.

2. Explain that these same everyday objects are the clues that your students examined in Lesson Plan Step 1 and the evidence that researchers rely upon today when studying traditional Bering Sea Eskimo culture. Stress that what may appear everyday and ordinary to us might well help someone from another culture or time to understand us better.

3. Give each student a copy of the Take-Home Page. Tell your students to imagine that they are researchers on a mission to study and document a previously unknown culture. The culture can be either a group of students at school, their family, or a community group. Stress that students must collect objects that will help others to understand the culture they are studying. (Be sure to mention that students need not collect excessively large objects! A few small objects will suffice for this activity.)

4. After your students have completed their research, begin a class discussion on their results. What objects did they collect? Why? How would these objects help someone from another culture or time to understand the culture they have studied? Answers may vary, but students should conclude that these ordinary objects are significant because they reveal a great deal about the everyday lives of the people who use them.