Lesson Plan: The Civil War Through American Art and Literature

The Civil War: Martin Johnson Heade's "Approaching Thunderstorm" Painting

Smithsonian Curator Eleanor Jones Harvey explains how the issue of slavery is depicted as a looming thunderstorm in art.

Description

Smithsonian Curator Eleanor Jones Harvey revealed how the Civil War can be seen in works such as landscape paintings, literature and photographs. She examines the symbolism in selections of paintings, photographs, poems and soldiers' diary entries. Use this lesson with students to examine how artists depicted the crisis of conflict as it was happening.

Procedures

  • Step 1:

    Students may take notes on the accompanying handout as they view the video clips in this lesson.

    Handout: The Civil War Through American Art and Literature (Google Doc)

    View the following video as class and discuss Ms. Harvey's commentary on the metaphor of a thunderstorm and slavery as it relates to the painting. Have students provide detailed observations about the symbolism and explain what it means to them.

    Video Clip 1: Martin Johnson Heade's "Approaching Thunderstorm" Painting (1:21)

    Smithsonian Curator Eleanor Jones Harvey explains how the issue of slavery is depicted as a looming thunderstorm in art.

  • Step 2:

    Have students work in pairs to view the videos below. After watching them, students should discuss their observations of the image in their video with their partner. Once completed, engage in whole class discussion by asking each student group to explain the image in the video they saw and provide details of the meaning of the symbolism that is represented.

    Video Clip 2: The Battle of Second Manassas (2:00)

    Eleanor Jones Harvey explains how a scene from the morning after the Battle of Second Manassas is described in excerpts from soldiers' diaries.

    Video Clip 3: Paintings and Literature (3:11)

    Eleanor Jones Harvey explains the connection between what people were experiencing in the country during the Civil War and the art and literature of the time. She specifically discusses a meteor event that occurred and how it relates to art and literature written by Herman Melville and Walk Whitman.

    Video Clip 4: The Civil War in Photographs (2:00)

    Eleanor Jones Harvey revealed how the Civil War was the first to be completely documented in photographs and the impact they had.

    Video Clip 5: Receiving the News of the Battle of Gettysburg (1:00)

    Eleanor Jones Harvey discusses paintings that reflect the time when word about the Union victory at the Battle of Gettysburg was realized.

    Video Clip 6: Eastman Johnson's "Negro Life at the South" (4:00)

    Eleanor Jones Harvey explains the symbolism in this painting as it relates to the life of slaves.

    Video Clip 7: Eastman Johnson: Self-Emancipation (2:22)

    Eleanor Jones Harvey discusses the concept of self-emancipation for slaves and how it is reflected in Johnson's "The Lord Is My Shepherd" and "A Ride for Liberty."

    Video Clip 8: Conrad Wise Chapman Confederate Art Collection (6:17)

    Eleanor Jones Harvey talked about a collection of artwork from confederate soldier and artist Conrad Wise Chapman. She describes some of the scenes from the Civil War that are depicted and links them to their locations around Washington, DC.

    Video Clip 9: George Barnard Collection (4:16)

    Eleanor Jones explains the significance of George Barnard's photograph collection from the Civil War. Some images from battlefields are graphic.

    Video Clip 10: Post-Civil War Art: Winslow Homer (7:20)

    Eleanor Jones explains paintings from this collection that portray life after the Civil War, including relationships between people in the north and south, slaves and their former owners and how people aimed to move forward in their lives.

  • Step 3:

    Culminating Activities:

    Have students select one of the following activities:

    1. Create a Snapchat showing the meaning of the image your examined in your video. Students should consider the scene, people's expressions, language, etc. Have them share their snap by taking a screenshot of it and sharing it with the class.

    2. Consider a modern day conflict. How would you represent it? Create your own painting, poem or song that reflects your interpretation. Research an image from the news that reflects a conflict; describe the scene and what effects it could have on viewers.

Additional Resource

Vocabulary

  • Abolition
  • Abolitionist
  • Battle Of Antietam
  • Brigade
  • Cataclysmic
  • Daguerreotype
  • Emancipation
  • Emancipation Proclamation
  • Eulogist
  • Harper

Topics

English & LiteratureGeographyU.S. History

Grades

Middle SchoolHigh SchoolUniversity