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Teaching Through Documentary Art

Teaching Through Documentary Art

Welcome to Teaching Through Documentary Art: Lessons for Elementary and Middle School Social Studies Teachers 11 stand-alone sets of innovative lessons developed to engage 4th through 8th-grade students in social studies while strengthening their visual, literacy, and analytical thinking skills. 

The lesson sets are linked to two murals by documentary artist Susan A. Walton. These murals are featured in the award-winning documentary Davis Bottom, Rare History, Valuable Lives, part of the Kentucky Archaeological Survey’s Kentucky Archaeology and Heritage Video Series.

The first painting, Davis Bottom in the 1890s, is a portrait of a working class neighborhood in Lexington, Kentucky at the turn of the last century. Davis Bottom was one of the city’s first integrated neighborhoods. Learning about the lives of these late 20th century people gives students the opportunity to explore the meaning of neighborhood and the definition of family, the use and abuse of power, and stereotypes about the working poor. Six lesson sets, targeting upper elementary school students (grades 4-5) are linked to this mural.

The second painting, Civil Rights in Lexington – 4th of July 1867, recreates the scene of one of Kentucky’s largest civil rights events. William “Willard” Davis, the man responsible for establishing Davis Bottom as an integrated community, was among the speakers that day. Learning about this event helps students understand the situation of newly freed African Americans after the Civil War and the beginnings of their long struggle for civil rights.  Five lesson sets targeting middle school students (grades 6-8) are linked to this mural.

Each set begins with a short, illustrated, grade-level background essay, followed by standards-based discussion questions and a list of achieved standards. Teaching tips, which provide suggestions for teaching and activities, round out each set. The lessons are aligned to the Kentucky Core Academic Standards/the C3 Framework for Social Studies State Standards; the Kentucky Academic Standards/Common Core Standards in English Language Arts; and the Kentucky Academic Standards in Arts and Humanities/National Core Arts Standards.

Activities outlined in Teaching Through Documentary Art are diverse and include:

1) exploring the paintings as a whole as well as selected vignettes, and analyzing the artist’s use of the elements of art;
2) writing poetry or delving into a special writing project that explores students’ own community’s traditions;
3) comparing the lives of children today to the lives of children who lived during the 1809s;
4) exploring primary and secondary historic resources;
5) learning about shotgun house roof technology;
6) meeting Isaac Scott Hathaway, who grew up in Davis Bottom and became one of the most influential African American sculptors of the 20th century; and
7) researching a wide array of topics such as African American soldiers of the United States US Colored Troops, music and the military, and voting and civil rights after the Civil War.