Drew Agnew’18 talks to RLST 220 students about the significance of objects
How many objects do you interact with each day? Do you know the story of each one, where it came from, and how it is significant? Every object has a unique story that provides a powerful learning opportunity. At Beloit College, students have the unique opportunity to learn from objects within the Logan Museum of Anthropology collections.
Honors term student Drew Agnew’18 is working with museum collections this fall, alongside Assistant Professor of Religious Studies Sonya Maria Johnson, to promote active learning and knowledge production within courses. This encourages students to go beyond the work of readings and lectures to discuss new concepts, challenge nomenclature, and contribute to deeper understandings of African-inspired traditions. Sonya is teaching two courses this semester focused on religion within the African diaspora and the black Atlantic.
Students from Sonya’s course Religious Thought in the Black Atlantic: Cuba visited the Logan Museum to understand the history of museums and the significance of the narratives presented in authoritative spaces. Drew led class discussions and encouraged students to engage with objects related to African-inspired religions and the black Atlantic. They observed the shapes, colors, and materials used to create these objects with insight from class readings. After small summaries of each piece’s history and significance, the students asked questions and made connections between these physical objects and their significances. Students made tangible connections to the concepts they encountered in class such as ritual, power, and cosmic orientations.
“The Logan Museum of Anthropology made my experiences here at Beloit truly meaningful,” says Drew. “I am happy to create even more opportunities for current students...to expand their learning outside of the classroom and working with Dr. Johnson is such an inspiration. I hope our collaboration will inspire others to do similar work with the Logan Museum.”
In Ritual and Culture within the African Diaspora, students explore ways to strengthen how African religious objects and concepts are presented to the public within museums. After learning about the history of the African diaspora and the lives of diasporic objects, students will write final papers on an object from the Logan Museum collections. The objects align with each student’s interests and passions for the project. Through this work, the class will challenge outdated and insensitive narratives associated with museum objects as they spend time with their object, research production methods, and connect cosmic, ritual, and sociopolitical significances. Each research paper will be added to the museum object’s file for future reference.
African objects within museums have powerful stories that often go untold. By contextualizing the objects and the museum within the African diaspora, these histories can become known within and outside of the classroom. Sonya explains that the students are “simultaneously learning and unlearning.” She leads her students through the fulfilling processes of producing knowledge by way of new innovations, models, and areas of focus.
The work of these students will contribute to how the Logan, future students, researchers, and visitors engage with the African Diaspora. These students are deconstructing colonial lineages by learning about the people and objects of the African diaspora and black Atlantic. Their interdisciplinary work in the classroom and the museum will deepen the ways these histories are presented and experienced today.