Artifacts and Fiction: Workshop in American Literature
This video workshop for high school American literature teachers introduces techniques for reading cultural, political, and religious artifacts and connecting them to the literature they teach. In each video program, experts in multiple disciplines do close analysis of a wide range of visual, print, and physical artifacts. The experts engage on-camera teachers in a discussion of the artifacts and how they can enhance the study of works of literature. These teachers then use artifacts with their own students to help deepen their understanding of the historical, political, and social contexts of the literature they read.
1. Visual Arts—Paintings, sculpture, and other works of visual art express ideals in their own language. This session demonstrates how to identify the style, form, and subject matter of appropriate works to help draw out the cultural setting of literary texts.
2. Political History—Speeches, protest posters, and cartoons capture the political views of various groups. Pairing the study of literature with close readings of appropriate political artifacts, this session demonstrates how to comprehend the place and time of a text.
3. Social History—The discipline of social history focuses on the lives of ordinary people. Diaries, photos, music, and clothing all contain clues to these personal histories. This session illustrates how literature can be more fully understood when paired with social history artifacts that reflect the cultural norms of the time.
4. Oral Histories—Oral histories can serve a dual role in the classroom: as a type of literature to be studied in itself and as artifacts that help explain other literary works. This session focuses on how folk songs, interviews, and other oral histories provide alternative views of a text’s cultural setting.
5. Domestic Architecture—Furniture placement and interior design are two of many aspects of domestic architecture that relay information about social attitudes and norms of behavior. This session explores what these interior spaces reveal about the cultural setting and period of a literary text.
6. Cultural Geography—The study of cultural geography focuses on how we shape our surrounding space, and how natural and man-made landscapes affect our perspectives. This session looks at literary texts through the lens of relationships of people to their environments.
7. Ritual Artifacts—From Victorian calling cards to Puritan gravestones, ritual artifacts reveal how humans create and define order in their lives. This session explains how to apply close reading skills to sacred and secular ritual objects to enrich understanding of the cultural setting of a literary text.
8. Ceremonial Artifacts—This session explores how objects used in religious ceremonies embody the spiritual beliefs of the cultures they represent. By better understanding these sacred beliefs, teachers learn to help their students connect to literary texts from unfamiliar cultural contexts.
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