5 Ways to Use Art To Teach History

When I was in grade school I remember hating history. I knew it was important to learn about, but the material was always so dull and uninteresting. Now that I’m older I love history. History really isn’t dull or boring at all. There are so many big events that have taken place in the past that have, and still continue, to shape our nation and the world at large. However, the traditional textbook teachings of history can make the subject become a bit of a bore. Fortunately, there are other methods, such as art, that can be used to help history come to life and to allow students to feel a stronger connection. Here are 5 ways that educators can use art to teach history.

1.     Flags Flags are a simple but incredible way to teach students about history. Take for instance the American Flag. There are a few different versions of the American flag that students can learn from. Start off by asking students what they know about today’s modern American flag. While it may be easy to recognize the stars as representing the 50 states, there may be a fewer amount of students that are aware of how the stripes represent the thirteen colonies. After discussing the modern American flag to students introduce them to the Betsy Ross flag. Explain the thirteen colonies as represented by the thirteen stars to students. Through examining these two flags students will have a visual representation of how American has changed over the years and expanded. These flags make a great addition to colonial or Civil War studies.

Guernica (1937), Picasso

2.     Paintings Paintings weren’t just made to be a form of home décor. Some of them were made to represent major historical periods or movements. Take for instance one of the world’s most famous painters, Pablo Picasso. Picasso painted his famous Guernica as a response to the bombing of Guernica in Spain. Upon first glance the picture looks really strange. It was created to show the chaos and tragedy of war. Studying this painting can be a great way to introduce students to topics of war. Ask students what they see in the picture and what they think the artist was trying to say about war. You could even challenge students to create their own unique paintings that center around a theme of war.

3.     Advertisements/Political Propaganda When teaching units on Nazi Germany and Anti-Semitism, using art is essential. There was so much political propaganda and advertisements released during this time period. When students see the ads and propaganda distributed by the Nazis to dehumanize the Jews, they will be able to understand and connect with the hatred displayed by the Nazi’s in all new ways. The images can portray this sense of hatred better than textbooks alone can.

4.     Historical costumes. Historical costumes are a fun way to teach kids about history. Consider having a dress up day where students dress as historical figures or where students dress as someone from the unit you’re studying. Ask students questions about why individuals dressed that way. Consider time period, historical events, and cultures.

5.     Political cartoons/Satire. High school students may prefer to gain history lessons and knowledge through political cartoons and satire. In addition to be humorous, these cartoons often times have underlying messages. Ask students to perform close reading of political cartoons and satire. What is the comic really trying to say? Challenge students to create their own political cartoons about the time period you are studying and to have other students guess what it is about or what the intended message is.

Art can provide many benefits for teaching history lessons. It is a creative alternative to teaching from the textbook and it can help to make history come to life and to be more fun and personable for students.

Ann Shirley is a freelance writer and educator from New York. Ann understands the importance of using art to teach other subjects. She uses the American flags for sale at http://colorfastflags.com/ for teaching students about history.

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3 Comments

  1. john vitale says:

    Would like to inform that I am offering a free DVD on Vincent Van Gogh. 35 minutes in length. Covers ten years as artist. Letters of Vincent used to describe the dozen painting that are view in DVD. Great teaching tool. Send address by E-mail to: jvitale @sbcglobal.net. NO CHARGE! My way of given back as a retired Dean of Humanities.

  2. Re: Teaching Picasso’s Guernica mural
    This link http://bit.ly/McQuStudio17 offers a concise art appreciation lesson plan that unpacks the visual elements in the Guernica painting, teaches close reading skills, and builds cross curricular connections including ekphrastic poetry.

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