This unit is designed to dovetail with a reading of excerpts from Stephen Ambrose’s
. Eighth Grade students at my school are required to read a part of the book on the Lewis and Clark Expedition in their English classes. Upon completion of the reading I will ask students to examine various artists’ depictions of Native Americans from the time of Lewis and Clark to the end of the Nineteenth Century. I believe examining the depictions will provide for an interesting extension of the Lewis and Clark Expedition reading. The artwork will help students extend their reading and make connections that they otherwise might overlook. It will also provide students the opportunity to use art in their academic class, one of many goals at my school, an arts magnet school. Students will be encouraged to look closely at a number of artists’ works including Charles Bird King, George Catlin, Seth Eastman, Karl Bodmer, and others.
The history of the Nineteenth Century Native American is one documented not only by history books and explorers’ journals, but artists and writers of the century as well. Like the attitudes towards Native Americans during the century, the artists’ depictions of the people during this period varied throughout the century. What were the interpretations of the Native Americans during this pivotal century? Did the artists’ interpretation of the Native American change from the beginning to the end of the 19th Century? If so, why, how? These are some of the questions that I believe examining the artistic interpretation of Native Americans can raise during a classroom discussion. Looking closely at the interpretations in art is what this unit will focus on. By focusing on Nineteenth Century representations of Native Americans in art, I believe that students will be able to examine more deeply the conflict and the culture that really shaped this century in American history.