Object handling activities based on the African CollectionThe Frank Oates collection at Gilbert White's House and Gardens includes a number of objects collected during journeys made through Africa. More information on the collection is available further down the page.
It has been developed for school use, especially upper primary.
- a film of an object handling session (20mins) with primary school pupil participation, focusing on two specific objects: a pair of leather sandals and a preserved hippo foot.
- 4 short films of pupils presenting their ideas after working in small groups, each with a different object
- 3D images of the pair of leather sandals and hippo foot
- photos of all 6 objects
- suggestions for use in the classroom
- brief additional information on the objects
All films are available via this playlist:
Download this activity sheet as a .RTF file - amend for your situation:
Object-based enquiry, using a question structure which encourages open minded thinking and questioning.
- Use the questions to investigate the objects used in the film 'Gilbert Whites House Object Handling session'
The film can be shown to the children afterwards. View African collection playlist on YouTube
- Then show children photos of the mystery objects 1-4, which are featured in the children’s film 'Mystery objects 1-4' and encourage them to use the same question structure. View African collection playlist on YouTube
Introducing the activity: Learning from objects
"Museums are places which allow us to see objects from all different periods in history and understand more about the world around us.
Objects can tell us about a particular time and place- they can help to tell a story about the past.
We are going to be taking a close look at some of objects from a museum collection. Some of these objects were collected by a Victorian traveller called Frank Oates on his travels around the world, some may have been collected by other members of his family who went travelling in later years.
We are going to look at photos and 3D images of objects. We will consider how much we can learn just by looking at them. I am going to ask you some questions to help you think about what stories these objects might tell."
- What do we know? Describe the object:
- How would you describe the shape?
- What colours can you see?
- What other details do you notice - textures, patterns, or markings?
- What materials does it seem to be made from?
- What don’t we know?
Encourage the children to suggest things we can’t know just by looking at a picture. These could include
- the weight
- the smell
- the sound
- what the object is
- its history.
- What do we think? Encourage the children to speculate- ask the children:
- What would it be like to touch this object? Describe what you think the texture would be.
- Do you think it is light or heavy?
- How old do you think it is?
- What do you think it was used for?
- How do you think it was made?
- Where has it come from?
- Who do you think may have used it?
- Why do you think they had this object/why was it important to them?
- Why do you think Frank Oates collected it?
At this point you can share with the children some information about the objects provided on the information sheet or show them the film of the guided handling session.
- Reflection: what do we feel?
- Would we have or use something like this now? Why/Why not?
- How does it make us feel to see this object?
- How do we feel about it being in a museum?
Encourage the children to think about equivalent examples – for example, one of their personal possessions being in a museum in another country
- Does it belong here?
Encourage the children to think of other outcomes for this object, other than being on display in a museum.
For example, it could
- go back to a museum in Southern Africa,
- it could stay here to help people learn about the past, or
- it could be returned to the community it came from.
Download this activity sheet as a .RTF file - amend for your situation:
This is the information that we have about the objects in this resource.
The objects were described by an unknown person working on the collections in the past.
If the find is "untraced" it means that we have no evidence on how it came to the museum.
We cannot be certain about the accuracy of the information.
If you more have information about the objects, we would like to hear from you.
|WM1994.949 Pot Stand (Described in the resource as 'donut')
|"pot stand, circular stuffed fabric stand with hole in centre, covered in white woven string with three blue borders, made in Africa." Untraced find
|WM1994.976 Maize Cutter (Described in the resource as 'wood and nails')
|"maize cutter, carved wood, boat shaped with nails through centre, made in Africa." Untraced find
|WM1994.449 Armband (Described in the resource as 'beads')
|"armband, 12 thick rope twists joined together and covered on the front with pink beads, with blue, red, black and white vertical bead borders, and a loop at the back, from Botswana, c1960s." Untraced find
|Reeded mat with tools inside. (Described in the resource as 'leather, 'wood' and iron').
|Hippo Foot: WM1994.414
|"Elephant's foot, hollowed out, from Matabele Land, c1870-1875."
We cannot prove that the foot is from Matabele land or that the dates are accurate.
A hollowed foot was a more portable way for European travellers to bring home hunting trophies. Hollowed feet would have been used as decoration in the home, as containers or even as wastepaper baskets.
|" shoes, pair of flat leather sandals with incised design and single support with cross over straps, made in Africa."
Frank Oates (1840-1875) was a middle-class Victorian with a keen interest in natural history. He first started to travel in warmer climes due to poor health. He visited North America and then travelled down to Central America- specifically the rainforests of Guatemala.
After this Frank Oates travelled to Southern Africa- with an ambition to see the Victoria Falls on the Zambesi River. He travelled up through the areas that are now South Africa, Botswana and Zimbabwe, eventually achieving his goal and becoming one of only a handful of Europeans who had seen the Falls at this date. However on the return journey he became ill with a fever and died.
Frank Oates was a talented artist who produced beautiful paintings recording the scenery and wildlife on his travels. He was also a naturalist who contributed to natural science records by cataloguing previously unrecorded species.
As with many Victorian travellers, some of Frank Oates’s attitudes and behaviour are problematic for modern audiences.
He was keen on hunting for sport as well as for obtaining specimens for study and he shot and collected trophies from many species, some of which are displayed in our museum. He also had attitudes towards the indigenous peoples he encountered that we would find unacceptable today, believing them to be primitive, and displaying a belief in his own superiority in trading and negotiating with local people.
As a museum we aim for our workshops to reflect on the changes in attitudes and understanding over the last 150 years and seek to present Frank Oates and others like him in a balanced way. This digital resource is one way in which we are addressing issues raised by the Frank Oates collection.
These resources were created by Gilbert White’s House and Gardens
With thanks to
- pupils and staff at Twyford St Marys C of E Primary School, who participated in the object handling sessions
- Dr Joseph Higgins, Professor Peter Langdon and Dr Christopher Prior of the University of Southampton
- the AHRC and NERC for co-funding the project.