Teaching with the Help of Ancient Objects

Left: fragment of marble entablature, attributed to the Templum Gentis Flaviae in Rome (KM 2424, photomodel by Ariel Regner). Right: fragment of composite capital from Pozzuoli (KM 3049, photomodel by Evan Timm).

BY MARCELLO MOGETTA, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Kelsey Museum of Archaeology, University of Michigan

As college teachers we are often encouraged to enhance pedagogy by engaging students in materially different ways. We are also reminded that University of Michigan museum collections represent an invaluable resource for teaching and learning. During my postdoc year based at the Kelsey Museum, I taught an undergraduate course on “Roman Imperial Architecture” for the Department of Classical Studies, so I had the unique opportunity to put these principles into practice. It worked!

At the beginning of the semester I decided to create a course assignment using Kelsey objects. Each student was asked to select an architectural ornament from the Kelsey collection (whether capital fragments, stone moldings, or stucco decorations), take pictures of it, produce a 3D model from photogrammetry (with the expert assistance of IPCAA’s Matt Naglak), and write a short catalog entry that should include an analytical description and interpretation of the piece. All the class participants signed up for this project, responding enthusiastically to the idea.

Perhaps what made the photomodeling assignment particularly exciting to the students was that they would be granted privileged access to areas of the museum that are otherwise restricted to normal visitors. Or that they had the chance to physically interact with archaeological materials from up close (by the way, thanks to Sebastián Encina and Michelle Fontenot for making this possible!), while at the same time experimenting with cutting-edge digital visualization methods. Whatever the reason, the results proved very rewarding. Using the Kelsey Museum database, the students extracted some basic information about provenance and dating, and in some cases were able to compare their objects with similar ones displayed in the galleries. Most importantly, they all tried to relate the artifacts to the lecture material seen in the conventional class.