People have been researching history through objects for centuries. The Antiquarians of the eighteenth-century fascinated over artefacts as survivors from ancient pasts. Most of us are familiar with looking at objects in museums as a way to learn about history. Historical artefacts offer a tangible connection to past peoples and places. But when we are taught the basics of history in school – and, indeed, in the early years of university history training – ‘things’ are rarely presented as historical sources. Often they are used as illustrative material, or supporting artefacts for documentary sources. Through this learning resource, I wanted to introduce school pupils to the ways in which they can examine material culture as evidence. It encourages them to consider the objects themselves but also the way people used, exchanged, and thought about things in the past to shed light on broader cultural, social, economic, and political histories.
In March 1700, the Scots colony of New Caledonia on the Isthmus of Panama was abandoned for the second time. Already overwhelmed by “the Extreamity of famine” the previous year, the colony was finally and forcefully dislodged by the Spanish. Despite the ultimate failure of the colonial project, the Darien scheme – by its very existence – underlined a fundamental contradiction in Iberian colonial doctrines of occupation and highlighted a significant chink in the imperial armour of the “Spanish” Americas.