The integration of visual arts—such as paintings, murals, sculpture, and photography—into history education can provide deep and compelling ways for students to engage with the past on multiple levels. As the text-heavy schoolbooks of previous decades give way to increasingly visual classroom materials supported by the internet, college professors and precollegiate educators have ever expanding opportunities to integrate visual materials—including works of fine art—to help students develop richer and deeper understandings of the past. To achieve this end, however, teachers at all levels must help guide students away from historical misinterpretation and provide them with the varied skills needed to effectively analyze visual sources and properly understand the past.
Evocative images draw students into thinking about the events or topics that they depict, and skillful teachers at every grade level—elementary through college—can use the visual interest that artwork provokes to help students think critically about past events and interpretations of past events. On the most basic level, students frequently view works of art that represent historical events as illustrations of past events; images that show ‘how it all actually happened.’ Students need to learn, however, that all works of art on historical topics present interpretations of past events that can—and should—be questioned, analyzed, and debated. Students need to develop skills of visual interpretation so that they recognize symbols, iconography, and other visual and historical references that artists use to communicate their vision to their audiences. Moreover, students need to recognize that artists’ representations are interpretations of the past that are shaped by the views, debates, and prejudices of the time in which they were created. Beyond that, students must also learn to address the different ways that works of art are reinterpreted over time and can come to hold different meaning for later generations than they held at the time they were unveiled.
The American Historical Association meeting in Chicago in 2012 presents a great opportunity for a group of scholars and precollegiate educators to gather to discuss ways that art can be most effectively integrated into history classes, from kindergarten through college. The panel will consist of two scholars, two precollegiate teachers, and a history education specialist, who will initiate the session by presenting sample lesson plans for integrating works of art into history courses, including a discussion of the goals and outcomes for students studying these lessons as well as the difficulties in teaching history through art. Following the presentations, the session will include a discussion among the attendees to address broader questions, topics, philosophies, and approaches to using art to teach history.
Frank Valadez (Executive Director, Chicago Metro History Education Center, Illinois) will chair the session. The presenters will be Dr. Amy Lippert (American Academy of Arts & Sciences), Steven Mullooly (Morgan Park High School, Chicago, Illinois), and Noor Khan (Meadow Glens Elementary School, Naperville, Illinois). Diane Dillon (The Newberry Library, Chicago, Illinois) will be the commentator.