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Museumís kits teach historyís treasures
April 5, 2007
Museum history kitby David Holstead, Times Staff

HARRISON - Along a wall of the Boone County Heritage Museum are stacked 10 treasure chests laden with an abundance of riches and wealth.

It's not money that is contained within the black, plastic chests, although the benefits derived from the contents are priceless, but rather the history of Arkansas and the Ozarks. The chests contain history kits that are available for use throughout the Harrison school district.

Funds to develop the kits came from a $1,942 grant by the Arkansas Humanities Council and the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation.
Each chest contains educational materials that pertain to a certain topic of regional or state history. Subjects include the Louisiana Purchase, the Civil War in the Ozarks, the Ozarks in the Great Depression, the history of Harrison, famous Arkansans, black Arkansans and Arkansas during World War II.
Andi Miller of Omaha, a former volunteer at the museum, wrote the grant and put the kits together. A lover of history with an advanced degree as a research librarian, Miller said the project took more than a year to complete.
"It was a work of joy," she said.
According to Miller, each kit comes with a binder that contains primary and secondary sources for that particular topic. It encourages students to do further research on their own. A list of people who might be interested in speaking to students is also included.
Miller also tried to have a variety of visual, audio and hands-on things in each kit, because "kids learn in different manners," she said.
An example of Miller's ingenuity and creativity in putting together the kits can be seen in the one that teaches students about Arkansas state symbols. Contained in that kit are a milk bottle (state beverage), a plush toy mockingbird (state bird), a honeybee encased in a plastic cube (state insect), a diamond ring (state gem), a small toy deer (state mammal), a plastic tomato (state fruit/vegetable) and a lump of quartz (state mineral).
In the Civil War kit, students will find books that relate tales of violence and lawlessness that occurred in the Ozarks during that time. Little known facts come to light, such as the battle of Whiteley's Mill, which took place near the present intersection of Highways 43 and 21 in Newton County.
Visual aids like a Union soldier's blue kepi cap, a mess kit, a Confederate battle flag and reproductions of Civil War-era money also help students understand the subject.
Despite careful planning and a year of work, Miller finds that she is constantly thinking, "Oh man, I should have put that in the kit."
Though she found all the topics that she worked on fascinating, Miller was drawn to two specific ones.
Because of its isolation, Miller said, the Ozarks developed its own particular culture. Her research into the subject led her to read many interesting tall tales that have been handed down, as well as superstitions and phrases that are indigenous to the Ozarks.
Miller also was particularly interested in the story of African-Americans in Arkansas. According to Miller, much of her fascination with the topic derived from the fact that it was such a historical flashpoint with Harrison.
"The experiences of African-Americans touched my heart," Miller said.
Miller reported that quite a few schools in the last few months have taken advantage of the kits. Though Harrison schools have first crack at the kits, she said, other school districts may check them out also.
"We're trying to reach out to the schools and get the schools into the museum," Miller said.
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