Welcome to the Museum: Historium




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Nelson, Jo. Welcome to the Museum: Historium. Illus. by Richard Wilkinson. Welcome to the Museum Series. Somerville, MA: Big Picture Press/Candlewick, 2015.
What could be more fitting for gifted youths than to have museums right in their own homes that are accessible every hour of the day and every day of the year? Welcome to the Museum: Historium is one volume in a series of large format nonfiction books that simulate the experience of visiting museums devoted to such scholarly fields of knowledge as archaeology, botany, zoology, paleontology, and astronomy. 
In addition to Welcome to the Museum: Historium, additional volumes in the Welcome to the Museum series include Animalium (Jenny Broom, 2014), Botanicum (Kathy Willis, 2017), Dinosaurium (Lily Murray, 2018), and Planetarium (Raman Prinja, 2019). The series was first published in England. Perfect for homeschoolers, each volume in the series is a coffee table-size book (think world atlases) which is highly informative and both beautifully and meticulously illustrated. The creamy pages of the books are thick and somewhat resemble the contents of classic late nineteenth-century and early twentieth-century scientific publications. The museum theme characterizes each series volume. The authors and illustrators are referred to as curators and the chapters are listed as galleries. The preface and the introduction found in each volume is labeled as the museum entrance and the collection of end matter that includes an extensive index, credits, and biographical information about the “curators” is known as the museum library. 
The entrance to Welcome to the Museum: Historium begins with a definition of archaeology. “Archaeology is the study of the past through the traces civilizations have left behind. These traces can include a wide range of artifacts – from the earliest stone tools and ruins of ancient settlements to burial goods and fragments of writing.” Curator Jo Nelson compares archaeologists to detectives who use artifacts as clues to provide insights into civilizations that existed and flourished as long ago as one million years. These modern-day sleuths utilize contemporaneous scientific tools such as carbon dating to determine the age of organic material. Traces of pollen are carefully analyzed in order to reveal kinds of vegetation associated with long forgotten civilizations. “Crime scene” objects such as pieces of pottery are examined, classified, and dated in order to compare both lost and enduring civilizations and to create a beautifully illustrated historical timeline. 
The galleries found in Welcome to the Museum: Historium are arranged by both geography and history. Africa contains the oldest known tools used by humans including a hand ax dated between 700,00 and 1,000,000 years ago. The Africa gallery is followed with additional galleries labeled America, Asia, Europe, The Middle East, and Oceania. Each gallery, in turn, is represented by images of physical objects that range from primitive tools to sophisticated art pieces from a minimum of five civilizations that are discovered on a timeline that begins one million years ago and ends at the year 2000 CE. The abbreviations BCE (Before the Christian Era) and CE (Christian Era) are used to mark or delineate the historical timeline. All the museum “objects” are beautifully illustrated in super realistic and exacting detail by Richard Wilkinson. In total, 24 civilizations are featured in Historium. Each museum “room” in the respective galleries opens with a description of the culture or civilization that is followed with beautifully realized images of associated tools and works of art.  
One of the greatest virtues of multiple galleries and the representative cultures or civilizations within each is that Welcome to the Museum: Historium is not limited to the extremely well-known past civilizations of Ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome. The America Gallery, for example, does portray “museum” objects from the civilizations of the Maya and the Aztecs, but also surveys the more recent Hopewell and Pueblo cultures that respectively existed or continue to survive in the American Midwest and Southwest. The Oceania Gallery features Indigenous Australians as well as the far more recent Maori peoples. 
 The Hopewell culture flourished for a period of six hundred years from 100 BCE to 500  CE in what is now the midwestern United States. Their settlements were adjacent to rivers that facilitated important trade routes. The most noteworthy remains of the Hopewell civilization are enormous burial mounds that cover as much as fifty acres. These earthworks are fashioned in geometric shapes with mathematical precision, the parallel lines of which suggest astronomical relationships with the moon, sun, and the stars. Excavations of the burial mounds have revealed intricately carved stone pipes in the form of birds and animals. Additional stone sculptures indicate a possible reverence for bears because of their singular ability to awaken from long periods of hibernation. Their presence in burial mounds may symbolize a belief that the dead could also reawaken after long periods of deep sleep. The Hopewell river traffic made possible the importation of shiny mica from hundreds of miles distant that may have been utilized to fashion mirrors. Flint was employed to create ancient projectile points that are commonly referred to today as arrowheads. The representative Hopewell artifacts are dated and appear on the superb timeline. Readers – “museum visitors” – are able to note that a layered mica-shaped human hand is an object that was an artifact created at approximately the same historical time period as bronze currency found in northern China, a glass blown vase in Ancient Rome, the Dead Sea Scrolls of the Judean Desert in the Middle East, and rock paintings created by Indigenous Australians. 
Activities for Teachers and Home Schoolers
All the volumes of the Welcome to the Museum series are perfectly suited to parent and child sharing. The living room floor or the dining room table are wonderful spaces for gifted children and their parent(s) to open Welcome to the Museum: Historium to virtually any double-page spreads and learn about past civilizations and view perfect images of representative artifacts that allow cultural detectives to define myriad civilizations found on all the continents of the world. The same volume as well as the entire series also help facilitate better student understandings of how museum exhibits are designed and curated in preparation for forthcoming visits to real, three-dimensional museums. 
Gifted students who find a particular civilization or culture in Welcome to the Museum: Historium of special interest can engage in additional research online. Creative young scholars who finds The Maori peoples of Oceania fascinating may consult the Internet to find both text and photographs to extend their knowledge base. Such research can lead to extensions of the text and illustrations found in the Maori segment of the original text.
The 24 colorful and informative exhibits found in the six galleries in Welcome to the Museum: Historium may also serve as models for new and highly imagined personal entries to this innovative series of books. With the assistance of parents, students can begin to fashion an entirely new volume or home museum exhibit that might be titled Welcome to the Museum: My Family Historium. Students may collect artifacts that represent the members of their families including photographs, original art projects, and highly prized mementos. The displays of personal family objects will be preceded with student-written histories of their families. Additional Welcome to the Museum-type student books may cover subject matter such as mathematics, literature, philosophy, visual and performing arts, and the latest communications technology.