Looking Back to Move Forward: History Project

Activity Steps:

1. Research:
Study the artists in ArtThink. What perspective is each trying to convey?
  1. What historical details does Kerry James Marshall reveal in his paintings of Thomas Jefferson and George Washington?
  2. What racial experience is Kara Walker exploring in her artwork? What evidence in the work supports your observations?
  3. Why does Glenn Ligon make art that looks at our past?
  4. How does Sargent Johnson persuade us to empathize with his subject? How might this work reflect the experience of African Americans at the time that it was made?
  5. What do these artists have in common? How do they differ? (materials, forms, style and subject matter)
2. Discuss:
Discuss with a partner the following quote by Kerry James Marshall:
''What we almost never talk about with the founding fathers is…the fact that when they were writing the Declaration of Independence—you know, speaking about liberty and justice and equality amongst human beings—almost all of them were being supported and sustained by generations of people who had no access to any of the liberty that they talked about…"
What do you find compelling about Marshall's statement? How do his two paintings illustrate his statement?
3. Supplemental Research:
Go online and find out as much as you can about the Founding Fathers and the Declaration of Independence. Make sure to cite your sources.
4. Research Paper Option A:
Think about how each artist presented a 'missing perspective' from history in his/her own way. Write a research paper on a 'missing perspective' in American history, finding a person or event that moved America forward toward equal civil rights. How can this missing perspective give us a new understanding of struggle and achievement?
Research Paper Option B:
Write a research paper on the changing composition of race in the United States. How have race relations evolved in the United States from the Founding Fathers, through the Civil Rights Movement, to the election of Barack Obama?
5. Present:
Present the main idea from your paper to the class and discuss different people's perspectives on the topic. Do other people's viewpoints shape or change your own?
6. Reflect:
What did you learn by researching both artists and historical figures? Why is it important to look back through history in order to move forward? What was the new perspective you gained?