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Their Life and Ours: So Very Different, So Much The Same
Life has changed a great deal since the North and South fought the American Civil War in the 1860s. Today, methods of warfare are different, medical practices have improved by leaps and bounds, and slavery has been abolished in America. Not only the big things have changed, though, but even the tiny details of our daily lives are different today than they were 150 years ago. For example, people wear jeans and t-shirts now; in the time of the Civil War, jeans and t-shirts didn’t even exist. Today we have water mains and indoor heating; back then, it was water from the well and build a fire. By taking many small details of daily life, like what we wear and what we eat and how we get to school, and comparing those with parallel details from the Civil War, this lesson helps students grasp just how vastly different life was for people who lived through the 1860s than it is for us living in Michigan today.
The Way Things Were
Out of necessity, Michigan pioneers used many homemade tools and simple methods to carry out farm tasks. They may have brought an iron plow blade with them from the east, but they made the wooden plow handle here. If they had no horse or ox, they pulled the plow themselves. The whole family was needed in order to perform the tasks that helped a family survive, and work was slow.
Uncover Connections and Contradictions
- Students will compare living in the early days of Michigan with today.
- Students will gain an understanding of the progress that has been made over the past 200 years in farming technology, housing, hygiene, etc.
Key Components: You Will Need….
Comparing Progress and Innovation
Give a copy of the “Then and Now” handout to each student. Explain: In the left column there is a list of activities people did 150 years ago; in the right column there is a list of activities people do today. Tell students to write what they think the corresponding activity might be in the blank space. (If you wish, add other items to the list. Suggestions include: Cook dinner at home/Go to a fast food restaurant; Make candles for light/Buy light bulbs at the store; Dry berries/Go grocery shopping; Store food in cellar to keep cool/Store food in refrigerator.) This activity could be used as an introduction to the Settlement Gallery or as a follow-up activity and with the study of other historical periods.
Talk About It
- What are methods of farming today? If possible, obtain tractor or other farm implement catalogs for the class to examine.
- What toys do we purchase today that children or their parents might have made during Michigan’s settlement days? Find plans for one (e.g., corn-husk dolls at a crafts store) and make your own.
- Look at your “Then and Now” comparisons. What are the effects on the environment of the different ways of life then and now?
- Look at farming tools in the Growth of Manufacturing Gallery and in the Early Agriculture, 1900-1930, Gallery on the museum’s third floor. Ask students to describe what they see, then compare the descriptions, looking for changes.
In addition to the in-class lesson, if you have the time and resources, you could incorporate many different hands-on activities into an overall understanding of modern technology vs. ‘old-fashioned’ methods.
For example, you could:
- Visit a farm to see how farm equipment works; some farms may have both modern and old-fashioned technology being used. Michigan is chock full of rich farmland.
- Find a reenactment village; many places have small displays that attempt to recreate culture the way it was in colonial times, for the purpose of understanding the change in culture over time.
- Have a Settlers’ Day. Ask students to look around their house after school and find items they could bring in to demonstrate what they think life might have been like for early settlers of Michigan. Ask the students to dress up as settlers on the day they bring items in and act out how they think their items might be used. I.e., an iron skillet that maybe Mom has, or some camping tools from the garage, or simple toys that require no batteries and have no plastic.
- Make settler-type foods, the way settlers would have made it (preferably no open fires in the classroom), and serve it to your students in class. Have students eat an old-fashioned meal to get a real taste for what life was like before microwaves and gourmet bistros.
At the Museum
- Look for farming and household tools in the Settlement Gallery. Try to figure out how they work.
- Pioneer: A person who goes before to prepare the way for others.
- Settler: Person who makes a home in a new colony or country.
- Necessity: An absolute need or requirement.
- Agriculture: The production and care of crops, livestock, and poultry.
- Manufacturing: Producing goods in large quantities with machinery; a relatively modern invention.
- Environment: All of the things that make up the outdoors, including air, water, earth, animals, plants, etc.
- Resources: Available tools and substances that a person can use.
Michigan Social Studies Curriculum Content Standards
This lesson presents an opportunity to address, in part, these standards:
- 4.4.5. ECONOMIC PERSPECTIVE: Explain how they act as a producer and a consumer.
- 1.2.6. HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE: Use narratives and graphic data to compare the past of their local community, the state of Michigan, and other parts of the United States with present day life in those places.
- Deur, Lynne. Settling in Michigan (And other true pioneer stories). Spring Lake, MI: River Road Publications, Inc., 1992.
- Freedman, Eric. Pioneering Michigan. Franklin, MI: Altwerger and Mandel Publishing Company, 1992.
- Hampton, Charles F. Michigan Log Cabins and Hard Cider. Brighton, MI: Green Oak Press, 1983.