Learning History Through Art

July 10th, 2009 in World History by Peter Culos

This isn’t art history. It’s not the history of art either. What we’re talking about is bringing art into history class and using it as a learning tool. I recently came across an interesting school program that was initiated by a local artist’s group. “The History through Art Initiative” was conjured up by the Jersey Central Artists Studio (JCAS) and instituted in a local grammar school.

Three hundred sixth graders in Cranford, NJ, studying ancient civilizations of Rome and Egypt, were taken to the Newark Museum to view their collection of artifacts relating to those two ancient civilizations. Then they were asked to produce an original piece of art that would fit into a specific time period. According to the JCAS website, the kids loved it.

OK, cool. Great way to get away from the old fashioned “names and dates” method of teaching history, right? Add some visual stimulus and, bam!, kids are interested in history again! True, but I think there’s a little more to be accomplished with a program like this one.

To produce a “period inspired” piece of art, one has to be acquainted with the styles of the time. They would have to know the social issues that inspired artists of that period. What materials would have been available? In short, they would have to put a historical period in context. Understanding the world in which they lived is a key to understanding why people did what they did and why it was so important.

For example, I found some great student work that utilizes various artistic expression. In one example, students must create propaganda posters for their World War II studies. Can you think of a better way to examine people’s fears and misconceptions for that time period? I can’t. How about learning about the horrors of the First World War? Write a letter home “from the trenches” or maybe a poem. Pick an art movement and produce an original work based on that movements principles. You can’t help but learn some history!

So listen up you history teachers out there…take a walk down to the art department! What’s next? Math through art? Science through art? Come to think of it, those aren’t bad ideas either.

Peter Culos is and artist/graphic designer as well as creator of history-geek.com

About the Author: Since my first trip to Gettysburg as a young boy, I've been captivated by History. I get it from my mom. Although she passed away when I was just 13, she still had an influence on me. All our family vacations were stitched around some historical site. So, history geeks are in my blood. I'm a graphic designer by profession and a semi-amateur painter. I love to explore history through my paintbrush. Currently, I work as a graphic artist for the US Army. I've also done living history to get a first hand feel for "what it was like". Looking at history through the eyes of the common man (or woman) and understanding the personal, human drama is really the spice that flavors the historical stew!

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5 Responses to “Learning History Through Art”

  1. Very good article, Peter. Your points are well-taken. I’ve seen too many school projects that seem to focus more on entertaining the students than on real learning. Properly handled, this approach could do both. I hope everyone who reads this will let their schoolteacher friends know about it.

  2. [...] Originally posted here:  Learning History Through Art : Great History [...]

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  4. palani said:

    opening a new information

    very use ful

    interesting message…..

  5. walter said:

    Another way to engage student is to bring in art. Many artists such as Conte and Barzo make toy soldiers that are pieces of art. Those of older generations will remember the Marx playsets! Like the Alamo! walter kolopajlo

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