The Primary Source Librarian

Dedicated to Excellence in Teaching with Primary Sources

Picturing America

Last year I helped a bit to build a list of lessons and teaching ideas in support of the National Endowment for the Humanities “Picturing America” program. Now you may not think of paintings as primary sources, but I find many similarities between American paintings and traditional primary sources such as letters, photographs, maps, journals, and artifacts. In many cases, paintings are truly eyewitness accounts of historical events. Portraits, too, brought the artist and the subject face-to-face, which makes portraits fit the primary source definition as well. As students work through events in history, the visual representations of those events and the people involved in them can greatly help increase their understanding. Paintings can also be used to compare and contrast the visual with the written accounts of history. What is truth? What is myth? What is somewhere in between?

Today is April 5, which gives teachers exactly ten days to fill out the application to receive Picturing America Exhibits for their schools:

Successful applicants will receive a set of 20 laminated reproductions printed on both sides with artwork. A Teachers Resource Book is included with the reproduction set. Additional educational resources will be available on the NEH Web site. In return for receiving the Picturing America reproductions and Teachers Resource Book, schools are required to encourage teachers to use the reproductions in the classroom. Schools and libraries are required to keep as many of the reproductions as possible on continual exhibit in classrooms or public locations in the school…during the September 2008 through May 2009 grant term, and to retain the reproductions for future display and educational use.

What a deal! No cost sharing–just gorgeous reproductions to be kept and used in schools forever, plus the curriculum support needed to work with students. I don’t know how anyone could resist this fabulous program for a school. School library media specialists will receive recognition for their library programs, their teachers, and their administrators. The connections to art and history classes are obvious, but the exhibits will also enrich the entire school environment.

Good luck, and happy viewing! The deadline for applications is April 15–tax day!

Landsdowne Portrait

Gilbert Stuart, George Washington, (the Landsdowne Portrait), 1796. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.; acquired as a gift to the nation through the generosity of the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation. Courtesy National Portrait Gallery.


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