Museum of Civilization’s vintage cigar boxes open the lid on award-winning teaching project: The Governor General’s Award for Excellence in Teaching
Gatineau, Quebec, November 20, 2009 — An award-winning Calgary schoolteacher credits the Canadian Museum of Civilization (CMC) for inspiring his class to think inside the box - the cigar box, that is.
Sheldon Posen, Curator of Canadian Folklore at the CMC, was at Rideau Hall today when Neil Stephenson received the Governor General’s Award for Excellence in Teaching Canadian History. Stephenson, who teaches history at the Calgary Science School, a grades 4-9 charter school, was honoured for a school history project based on Posen’s virtual exhibition CANADA IN A BOX: Cigar Containers that Store Our Past 1883-1935.
Posen began researching and collecting vintage wooden cigar boxes when he realized how much their lavishly illustrated component panels revealed about Canada’s past. He built his innovative exhibition around 200 of the best examples depicting famous people, pastimes, newsworthy events and many other topics. Stephenson saw CANADA IN A BOX online and had a great idea: Why not get students to explore and reinterpret historical events by creating their own “cigar boxes”?
“I’m delighted that my exhibition gave Neil Stephenson the idea to teach history in such a creative way,” says Posen. “His successful teaching experiment shows that even though the Canadian Museum of Civilization is located in Gatineau, we have a truly national presence. Technology makes it possible for our research, collections and exhibitions to inspire and educate people from coast to coast to coast.”
For the Cigar Box Project, Stephenson’s history students, who also learn about their own immigration stories, chose historical figures and issues to research - topics ranged from War of 1812 heroine Laura Secord to explorer Martin Frobisher, and from the Patriote Rebellion of 1837 to the building of the railroad. They gathered information and images, sketched out designs for their own illustrated panels, learned to use graphics software to execute and print their designs, built their own wooden boxes and attached the graphics to create unique reinterpretations of history - essentially “remixing” historical images to create new artifacts. Students documented the process and commented on their own and each others’ work through video, podcasts, blogs and other online tools. Mr. Posen reviewed the students’ work and provided guidance and encouragement via video conferencing.
“Sheldon Posen, in a short video on the CANADA IN A BOX website, explains that his role as a historian is to ‘unpack’ the stories contained in historical cigar box panels. The goal of the Cigar Box Project is to have students discover stories from Canadian history, collect images and then create, or ‘pack’, their own cigar boxes,” says Stephenson. “This is just the beginning. I am now exploring the Museum’s many other content areas and exhibitions to find new ways of inspiring students to see their country in a fresh light.”
Explore CANADA IN A BOX: Cigar Containers that Store Our Past 1883-1935 at www.historymuseum.ca/cmc/exhibitions/tresors/cigares/cigar-bo