Menu Close

Teaching with Collections During COVID-19

Fall 2020

Report by Dr. Wendi Field Murray, Collections Manager for the Wesleyan University Archaeological and Anthropological Collections. Reposted from the Wesleyan Collections Staff Newsletter, November 2020.

For her two archaeology courses this semester (ARCP204: Introduction to Archaeology and ARCP291: East Asian Archaeology), Archaeology faculty Kate Brunson was planning to rely heavily on hands-on class exercises and the use of the AAC collections. As we all know, COVID had other plans. To accommodate COVID-related restrictions and safety concerns, she and Archaeology Collections Manager Wendi Field Murray instead designed optional, outdoor class visits for her 45+ students under the tents behind Exley. 

The visit focused on the Paleolithic stone tool collections, as well as the synthetic casts of hominin skulls.  These are objects that are resilient to the effects of light, as well as the temperature/humidity fluctuations, dust, and air pollutants that would compromise the safety of most other objects in the collection. Class visits were split across three days to reduce crowding. Students were allowed to handle objects, but gloves were required (this is not typical for these collections, as there is often a tactile component to the observation and analysis of archaeological objects). To further reduce shared touch surfaces, we split the artifact trays in half – one half was available for touching/handling, and the other half was available for viewing only. For the next class, these artifact groups were switched, allowing each group of objects to “quarantine” for the recommended three days before being handled again. Aside from Murray’s recurring nightmare that week that she had accidentally left all the artifacts outside overnight, this set-up worked out really well! Students gave each other plenty of space, were able to make their own observations about the objects, and Brunson and Murray were on-hand to answer questions about everything from artifact identification to what stone tool technologies through time demonstrate about the evolution of human cognition.