July 24, 2012
"But What is it Worth?" (and Why You Shouldn't Answer It) The Price of Antiques
"This object gives historians a lot of information about how people lived in the 1700s. This information was not recorded in books and therefore it is of considerable value to historians."
That's not what they want to hear. They will then clarify their question as if I didn't understand, "How much money is it worth?"
I don't know if it is today's economy, but lately historical artifacts seem to be about the money that can be made. Shows like American Pickers, Pawn Stars, American Digger and many others put an emphasis on the price tag of antiques instead of their educational, historical and cultural value. It is an even more grave situation, when people are prompted to loot historic sites, like what happened in Gettysburg two weeks ago.
It's really important for history educators to go over the basics of archeology and the importance of artifacts and antiques to our understanding of history. Tell your listeners the importance of the information gained from archeological sites and how the artifacts collected are not the goal, but a result of archeologists excavating for information. Try to bring the focus off the antiques and artifacts and try to emphasis how important these things are for learning about the past.
Has anyone else noticed this at events and in museums? If someone asks you about the "value" of something, what do you say?