Art is a powerful teaching tool for bringing history to life. Learning history through art brings the past to life and empathy.
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Tips for Teaching History Using Art
I love to use art to bring history to life! Here are a few tips for using art to bring history to life:
- Show children paintings and sculptures from the time period. Talk about how the art reflects popular figures and values of the time.
- Examine sculptures and paintings depicting a historical event from different artists and time periods. How are the depictions the same? How are they different?
- Ask children to create their own artistic depictions of a historical event.
If you are looking for a good book to start with, The Arts: A Visual Encyclopedia covers art work dating all the way back to prehistoric caves through 21st century contemporary street art.
Learning History Through Art: Rodin’s Burghers of Calais
Do you know the story of the Burghers of Calais? In 1347, England had placed the French Port of Calais under siege.
The siege lasted for over a year, and the residents were starving.
King Edward of England offered to spare their lives if six of their leaders would surrender to him.
Eustache de Saint Pierre, one of the wealthiest leaders in the town, was the first to surrender, and five other men volunteered to join him, leaving the town for likely death.
King Edward ordered them to leave the town with nooses around their necks, carrying the keys to the city and the castle.
Edward’s wife, Philippa of Hainault, convinced her husband to spare their lives for the sake of their unborn child.
I love this story, both because of the sacrifice of the six burghers and the queen’s merciful intercession for their sake.
Rodin was actually criticized for these sculptures, because critics felt that they were not heroic enough. Rodin’s statudes show pain and anguish, emotions not typically connected to heroism.
These powerful human emotions are actually my favorite part of the sculptures. The above photo of Emma shows that Rodin’s sculpting taught her about the sacrifice found within this story in a way that no heroic statue could.
What are your favorite ways to teach history? Have you used art before? What are your favorite ways to use art to bring history to life?
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