Founded by Karen Shelby and Michelle Millar Fisher, arthistoryteachingresources.org is a peer-populated provider of open educational content. In their own words, “AHTR was founded so folks would not have to reinvent the wheel each time they taught.” On the site, you can find an extensive resource repository, adaptable lesson plans (with downloadable PowerPoints!), assignment ideas, and learning activities. Read on for my review of AHTR lesson plans.
AHTR offers three categories of lesson plans: Survey 1 (15 lesson plans); Survey 2 (23); and “Thematic” (17).
Each lesson plan is structured in the same way:
- “First Things First…” A contextualization of the lesson’s place in the semester and a brief overview of its content. Oftentimes there will also be a suggestion for an in-class activity to engage students at the beginning of class.
- “Background Readings.” A quick link to background readings, educational videos, and discussion boards that are useful for teachers and students alike.
- “Content Suggestions.” This is the truly exciting part – lecture slides! Content varies based on the topic, but you can expect to find labeled image slides, definitions of key vocabulary words, maps, embedded videos, bibliographic information, the list goes on… You will also find suggested images for discussion, a glossary, key concepts, learning outcomes, and an excellent summary of the lesson material.
- “At the End of Class…” Suggestions for concluding class, such as discussion prompts, current event parallels, primary source readings, and many other creative ways to engage your students before they pack their bags (or log off of Zoom).
And Now, the Review
Survey 1: Art of the Americas before 1300
Contributed by Ananda Cohen Suarez and Jon Mann (http://arthistoryteachingresources.org/lessons/art-of-the-americas-before-1300/)
Aerial view of Teotihuacan, Mexico, 0–700CE.
“First Things First”
Suarez and Mann suggest that you embrace the limited knowledge your students may have of pre-Columbian art by screening the trailer for a popular movie such as Apocalypto or The Emperor’s New Groove. Ask students to write down adjectives that come to mind as they watch the trailer (or clip). It is quite likely they will come up with terminology related to stereotypes of indigenous art and culture. Once you have established the rampant stereotyping of indigenous peoples, you can start dismantling them with each image you discuss. This is an excellent way to invite students to examine their own pre-conceived notions in a safe and collaborative space. It also lays the groundwork for a critical approach to traditional art historical narratives.
Suarez and Mann provide links to lectures, articles, illustrated timelines, discussion posts, and helpful books. They do not highlight any specific articles that may be appropriate for undergraduate students, but suggest many and varied introductory resources from which to choose.
22 Slides of illustrated maps, labeled art objects (10, with comparative images as well), and site photographs
Suarez and Mann provide detailed information and links to further resources for each object discussed in their lecture, as well as general information about the geographic region and time period. Their survey material is well-organized, thoughtfully curated, and balanced. They are always quick to expose the structures of colonialism, Western bias, and systemic racism that have shaped (and continue to shape) the field. My only concern with this excellent lecture is that it would be very difficult to introduce and contextualize 10 objects from disparate geographical and temporal areas in a 1-hour or 1.5-hour lecture course.
“At the End of Class”
Our authors suggest a group work visual analysis exercise, which asks students to group 4-5 images on the screen in to three themes covered in the lecture (Art and Communication, Art and Ritual, and Continuity of Cultures.) These three themes are immensely helpful for trying to understand the great temporal and spatial scope of this lecture. I can see that a grouping exercise would be beneficial for students as they process similarities and differences between Mesoamerican, Pre-Columbian Caribbean, and Andean cultures and the artworks created therein.
Survey 2: Italian Renaissance Art (1400-1600)
Contributed by Sarah Dillon (author) and Amy Raffel (editor) (http://arthistoryteachingresources.org/lessons/italian-renaissance-art-1400-1600/)
“First Things First…”
Dillon suggests an opening activity asking students to fill in blanks on an illustrated timeline. This is a great way to remind students of what they have already seen in their survey(s) of art history and to situate the innovations of the Renaissance within a broader understanding of the history of art.
Dillon provides links to popular Italian Renaissance materials, such as the National Gallery of Art’s Italian Renaissance Learning Resources and PBS’s Medici series. Particularly helpful are Dillon’s links to videos demonstrating different artistic techniques (tempera vs. oil vs. fresco etc.). These are immensely helpful for students as they endeavor to understand the differing strengths and limitations of mediums.
45 slides of maps, labeled objects (18!, with comparative images as well), ground plans, vocabulary definitions, and two “unknown” objects for class discussion
Dillon suggests framing the lesson around a few main themes: The revival of classical styles and ideas (specifically humanism), return to the naturalistic style (3D objects and space), and the rising status of the individual (both artist and patron). She chooses well from the “greatest hits” of the Italian Renaissance and Mannerist/early Baroque period, but one wonders how to cover all of the excellent material provided in the course of one lecture. The slideshow and corresponding lesson plan could easily provide material for three lessons, which is how I personally plan to use it!
“At the End of Class”
Dillon suggests showing students an “unknown” image and asking them to guess who painted/sculpted/designed it. This could work for individual students or for groups.
I love this exercise and have used it often myself. I have found that while students are initially intimidated by the task of identifying an unknown work of art, they ultimately find that they know far more about the time period and artists they’ve studied than they realize. This could be used as an in-class activity (as Dillon suggests) or as an exam question.
Thematic: Race-ing Art History: Contemporary Reflections on the Art Historical Canon
Contributed by Ellen C. Caldwell (author) and Jon Mann (editor)(http://arthistoryteachingresources.org/lessons/race-ing-art-history-contemporary-reflections-on-the-art-historical-canon/)
“First Things First”
Caldwell sets up her lesson by providing links to resources relating to her methodological framework (critical race theory) and listing the questions that guide her research and writing. I love her suggestion that you should not wait until later in your course to introduce contemporary art/artists and the often-exclusionary art historical canon they speak back to. Her lesson provides easy ways to incorporate contemporary art in discussions of Neoclassicism, Rococo or Baroque art through comparisons with the works of such artists as Yinka Shonibare and Kehinde Wiley.
Caldwell suggests two readings that are appropriate for undergraduates and graduates alike. She also provides suggestions for further readings to incorporate as you find useful.
35 slides of labelled objects with comparative images. Caldwell’s slideshow is organized by artist and is therefore quite useful as a starting point for any lecture you wish to deliver. It also functions as a repository of comparative images you can easily insert into your lectures throughout the semester, as you weave critical race theory into the fabric of your course (rather than as a footnote at the end of the semester).
Caldwell provides thorough and thoughtful commentary on each of the nearly 20 comparative slides she presents. She includes questions to ask students to guide discussion, suggestions on how to tie the material to students’ lived experience, and well-chosen primary sources. Caldwell has found a way to incorporate critical race theory throughout your survey class, not just in the final days of the semester as you rush through post-modernism. I love the idea of incorporating Yinka Shonibare’s The Swing (after Fragonard) into your Rococo lesson or Abelina Galustian’s Womansword Series (quoting Gérôme’s Slave Market) into your Neoclassicism lecture. Caldwell’s lesson is a must-view for any Survey II instructor!
“At the End of Class”
Caldwell offers a sets of images for students to compare and contrast either individually or in groups, or to use as a prompt for a research project.
I found every single AHTR lecture exceptionally researched, well organized, and approachable. While it is certainly a great option to borrow an AHTR lecture wholesale, I recommend borrowing from and adapting lessons in ways that make sense for your classroom. I, for one, have already incorporated slides from Ellen C. Caldwell’s lesson in my Survey II course this semester!
Have you used AHTR resources in your classroom? Do you have a great lesson that you think could benefit other instructors in the field? Is there another teaching and learning resource you would like to see reviewed? Let us know in the comments!
Get to know your author: Hi there! My name is Abigail Upshaw and I am a doctoral candidate, instructor of record, and former undergraduate academic advisor at The University of Maryland, College Park. I currently hold a Digital Innovation Group (DIG) Fellowship in the Michele Smith Collaboratory for Visual Culture at UMD. I am thrilled to be the first DIG fellow to participate in a new collaboration between DAHS and UMD. For the rest of the fall semester I will be regularly dropping into your inbox with more Digital Bytes: Tips for Online Teaching and Learning. I would love to hear about your challenges and your victories in online teaching! Leave a note in our comments to be in touch.