Today, my World History students read the New York Times article, “Saving Relics, Afghans Defy the Taliban,“ and we discussed the roles that artifacts and history play to forge a national identity and foster national unity. It is interesting that along side the endless Afghanistan’s “brick and mortar” needs, that such an earnest effort is taking place to recover and restore Afghanistan’s historical memory. In 2001 the Taliban destroyed thousands of items held in Kabul’s National Museum of Afghanistan because they were viewed to be sacrilegious. Archivists have carefully pieced back together hundreds of these shattered treasures.
I first asked the students why America’s Founding Documents are important? If the Constitution, Bill of Rights and Declaration of Independence were destroyed, would it matter since we have digital copies? Student answers were steadfast that the physical parchment is very important. When asked why, their responses included:
- The actual document provides proof and belief the founding fathers actually wrote those words. Virtual documents can be doctored and may not be trusted by future Americans.
- Citizens can “experience” a “connection” those documents by visiting them in Washington, DC.
- They are symbolic of what is America.
- Something that is a replica and looks like the original does not matter or mean anything.
The students concluded most of these responses could relate to Afghans and their own historical past. We had a great conversation how the efforts of American and Afghan archivists to restore lost and broken artifacts may be just as important as new infrastructure projects to unify the Afghan people. We also had a brief discussion how these ancient artifacts have obtained new meaning through their repairs. One student added that a 2,000 year old artifact that had only represented Buddhism, now as a glued together object, represents this history of the Taliban and their efforts to erase their nations history and should be powerful reminders of the Taliban’s brutality.
We continued our analysis and value of artifacts in a discussion of the Mongol empire. Students used a worksheet to study three images provided on this Mongolian Museum website. Students worked alone and with partners to discuss a saddle, ewer and tapestry and what insight they provide to the Mongolian leaders and conquest. Finally, groups of 3-4 students were assigned a civilization (Vietnam, Korea, Japan, India, Thailand and Angkor) and will choose 3 artifacts that best represent their chosen civilization. Most importantly to this assignment, they will develop 4 questions (using the Mongolian Museum website as a model) that guide an observer to analyze these object.
Students will hang their “artifacts” around the class with Artifact Information Cards (shown from the linked website) and student have a walk through the classroom exhibition. Students will take notes and write down their reactions to each country’s images