Through its focused attention on key works of art and design, this lesson offers students the opportunity to investigate the changing context of America since the colonial period and into the 20th century. Built on ideals of freedom and equality, the United States has been shaped by its global connections through trade, war, migration, and immigration. Students are encouraged to act as historians by using these works of art as primary sources to investigate aspects of daily life, the environment, identity, and politics. Students look closely at a single object or compare artifacts, shift their attention from details to the whole, and synthesize observations of the object with the broader context that produced it. The questions and activities encourage students to consider and ask thoughtful questions about making, use, and meaning in relation to historical objects and their own contemporary worlds, as well as in making hypotheses about how the political, social, religious, and economic ideas embedded in these works have shaped the way other Americans think, act, and create.
Highlighted here are key objects you can use to generate in-depth investigations. Appropriate for an entire class or for small-group or self-guided learning, each object analysis provides relevant information, possible discussion questions, and suggestions for writing, making, and doing. You can choose a single artifact or a sequence of works; project or print out images; learn about one object for a presentation or to lead a discussion; and choose or customize discussion questions and activities that address your teaching goals and learning objectives.