Education About Asia: Online Archives

Using Material Culture to Impart a Sense of Place

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The ongoing struggle to procure the latest technology in our classrooms and the globalization of our curricula are two omnipresent themes in American education today. Many believe they are interdependent in that our World Wide Web, CD ROM, and other electronic connections are prerequisite to linking multiculturalism across the curriculum.

While few people, including this author, downplay the benefits of electronic learning, even the best interactive multimedia limit students to visual and auditory sensory perception. Conversely, the integration of “old technology” such as Malaysian blowguns, Tibetan cymbals, Tamil incense, and other material culture can enliven classroom presentations and effectively integrate into the curricula such core geographic themes as place, diffusion, and human-environment relationships. As Cart found when teaching about Jainism in India, “using material culture improves the study of religion.”(note 1)

As technology grows more pervasive while consuming shrinking budgets, we should not forget the “hands on” and “boot wet” pedagogy that has served geographers since antiquity. We can maximize both our funding and our results by balancing commercial multimedia acquisitions with material culture and kodachrome slides obtained in the field. Adding large format cartography creates a dynamic presentation that appeals to the whole student through multisensory, spatial, and technological avenues.

This paper will discuss techniques for building a material culture portfolio for educators who travel as part of their professional growth strategy. This requires a “research for teaching” commitment that includes predeparture goals, the careful selection and acquisition of artifacts, and prudent return shipping.