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Homepage Archives Open in new window Index (10/2001) Relic Hunter (09/2001) Relic Hunter (11/2001)   Vol. 35 October 2001 
The Relic Hunter
As seen in the October 2001 edition of W&ET Magazine

Standing Up For History

By: Ed Fedory

History was never one of my favorite subjects at school. It had too many numbers in it- 1620... 1776... 1865... 1941- and it seemed as if everyone we studied about was dead. It wasn't like physical education, art, or even lunch, where you could get your hands working, except for when the teachers wanted you to take notes or do that thing they called homework. I never cared that much for English classes, either. They always seemed to be nagging about "getting your ideas down on paper," and the worst day was the one when you were asked to stand in front of the class and do some public speaking. It always seemed that the words public humiliation would have been a lot more appropriate!

How I came to love history, have a passion for writing, and enjoy speaking to groups about relic hunting and history, is certainly beyond me. Maybe it had something to do with those early lessons about sharing what we were taught in kindergarten, or maybe it's kind of like "show & tell" for big people. Whatever the case may be, it gives us, as relic hunters, the opportunity to fan a small spark of interest in our nation's past, and kindle a fire of understanding in the young people of today.

Although your immediate reaction might be a resounding, "Yeah, right! I couldn't do that!" the truth of the matter is, that you can. And it can be not only a gratifying experience, but a heck of a lot of fun in the process.

Every one of you reading this column has an area of true expertise about the history of the area in which you live. You've sought out those older sites for coins and relics, and in the process developed an understanding of your locale and how it fit into the "big picture" of our national history. Most of you have collections of recovered artifacts to help illustrate your talk, and give students the rare opportunity to actually touch a piece of history. Lastly, and most importantly, you have the passion for the things of the past. It is a winning combination that cannot fail to spark interest!

Knowing your audience is the primary key to any successful presentation. With younger audiences, the more "hands on" material you have available, the better your talk will go over. Large and heavy artifacts should not be passed around from student to student... they are still not as coordinated as we often think they should be, and I always refrain from passing around any artifacts which are delicate and shouldn't be dropped, for the same obvious reason. Larger objects can be displayed on tables, or on the floor if the students are permitted to gather around.

During a recent presentation to several fourth grade classes, I displayed a Colonial cooking stove and the eating utensils which would have been used during that period of time. I didn't pass around the knife, or the very sharp two-tined fork, but the pewter plate was light enough, break resistant, and passed from student to student safely. Comparing the way their food was prepared, and the type of place setting they had at home, with those used by some Revolutionary War soldiers, gave students a better understanding and a closer familiarity with the period of time they were studying in class. The idea of "how things have changed over the centuries" is usually enough to generate interest.

When I speak before school groups or other youth organizations, it is never a "free ride." I expect and encourage questions, and I am never afraid to ask questions of the audience. This open interaction between speaker and audience is a good "ice breaker." Children are naturally curious, and you can expect the hands to be up and flailing before you. This is desired, but how you control the situation is very important. If you attempt to call on every raised hand, your presentation will be lost, and within ten minutes you'll be hearing "pet stories" or the details of Aunt Ida's latest operation.

When I sense that a turn in the line of questions is about to occur- you really can't miss it; it will loom up in the distance like a high-speed freight train- I like to bring out a big prop. An 18 lb. cannonball usually does the trick. It is something you don't want passed through the assembled students, but just rolling it across the floor, or guiding a student as he picks it up, is enough to illustrate to young and imaginative minds what the destructive power of such a projectile would be on the battlefield. Additionally, it brings you right back to the central theme of your presentation.

Handouts are another way of keeping a younger audience focused. When I do presentations on the American Revolution, each student has a sheet of paper with an unlabeled line drawing of a musket, and as I go through an explanation of how the musket worked, and how it is different from the types of longarms used today, the students usually begin to label the parts I have described. The handouts usually include several questions about the everyday life of a soldier in the field during Colonial times.

Slide presentations can also be a useful tool in bringing your subject matter across. However, remember to keep the presentation short for younger groups. We should also never forget that the projector is a machine, and as such is subject to failure. It should never be solely relied upon. Always have a backup presentation ready to go should a bulb blow out, or if the projector malfunctions in some other way. There is no worse sight than looking into the faces of a hundred disappointed kids!

When giving a presentation to young people, always expect the unexpected. You may wonder, at times, where they are coming from with some of their questions or perceptions. Generally, they are serious questions, and should be accorded serious answers. It's always a good idea to leave some time at the end of your presentation to allow for questions you might not have been able to address during your talk.

Older audiences can often present a particular challenge. Whether you are talking to a metal detecting club or the local historical society, you had better be on top of your game. You must grab their attention from the very beginning, because if you begin to lose some of your audience, it is a difficult job to get them interested once again.

Knowing your subject matter thoroughly is a must. If you present something that has not been documented, or something of which you are not 100% sure, you can expect to be challenged. Don't feel that you are a target during a presentation to adults, but be aware that one false statement can "put you in the sights."

Don't be afraid to say, "Gee, I don't know" or "I never looked at it from that angle" to your audience. No matter what age group you are speaking to, they'll appreciate your honesty more than some artful way of slipping away from the question.

Adults can sit for a longer presentation than can young people, and you can dig deeper into your subject matter with them. A longer slide presentation can be given to illustrate your talk, but it is essential to remember that the slides are not the show... they are only being used as a support mechanism for the points you are attempting to bring across to your audience.

The order and sequence of your talk and slide presentation is important. Know exactly what is coming up next, and remember that there should exist a common theme, or themes, to your presentation. The slide presentation is a useful and highly effective tool, but should never be just a random collection of things you have found. The time you spend running through the sequencing of your slides and practicing your presentation is never wasted.

Having a good sense of humor is another key essential, and a couple of off-the-topic slides, to break up your presentation- if not your audience- is another path to a successful presentation. Laughter is healthy, and you should find the means of incorporating it into your talk.

Being a raconteur, a teller of tales, of our country's past, is something most relic hunters already are. It's just a question of finding an audience. Be like that ancient mariner and seek them out, for there are more than a few who will sit spellbound while listening to a well-woven story!

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