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In this lesson, students learn about the life and times of Alexander Hamilton through paintings. In the Introductory Activity, students learn about how paintings can be used to chronicle important historical events and place images and facts about the life and times of Alexander Hamilton in chronological order on a timeline. In the Learning Activities, students view video segments from the PBS program Rediscovering Alexander Hamilton to explore how paintings can describe historical events. Students also review online timelines to gather more information about the life of Alexander Hamilton. In the Culminating Activity, students use photographs, drawings and written descriptions to create their own timelines.
Students will be able to:
(2) 45-minute class periods
Optional:Surrender of Lord Cornwallis
Print out one copy of the Alexander Hamilton Fact Cards and one copy (single-sided) of the 7-page images for the Images for the Alexander Hamilton Timeline for use in the Introductory Activity. Cut out the fact cards and images along the dotted lines and place the fact cards in one pile and the images in another. Shuffle each pile, so the items are not in chronological order.
Optional: Print out the key to the Surrender of Lord Cornwallis painting for use in the optional activity in the Introductory Activity.
1. Ask students to think about what they would do at an important event or party (a birthday, wedding, graduation, etc.) to help them to remember the event and share it with others who weren’t there. (Write down information, call or tell others about the event, take videos, photographs, etc.)
2. Explain that in the late 1700s and early 1800s, computers, cell phones and cameras did not exist. Ask: What are some ways people back then could share information about important events without those things? (By telling stories, writing about the event, making drawings, etc.)
3. Explain that in order to document and remember important events (presidential speeches, wars, etc.) artists created works of art. Let students know that today they will be exploring works of art to learn about the life and times of Alexander Hamilton, the first Secretary of the Treasury. Explain that Hamilton oversaw the US Department of the Treasury, which is responsible for maintaining a strong economy and making sure the United States is financially secure. He was responsible for giving President George Washington advice on economic and financial issue.
4. Although there are no photographs of Alexander Hamilton, there are many paintings of him and the major events of his time, which help us to know what he looked like, how he dressed and what he did (including the image of him featured on the $10-dollar bill).
5. Create a blank timeline (about 8 ft long) by placing a piece of masking tape or yarn on a wall or by drawing a long horizontal line on a board. Put the year 1750 on the left hand side and the year 1830 on the other.
6. Provide a long table, bench, floor or other flat surface where students can arrange the timeline fact cards and images before placing them on the timeline. Divide your students into groups of 2-3 students each. Hand out the Alexander Hamilton Fact Cards and the Images for the Alexander Hamilton Timeline making sure each group gets at least one fact card and one image.
7. Ask students to arrange the fact cards and images in the appropriate order on the flat surface. Once all the cards and images are in the correct order, ask students to place the cards on the timeline on the wall.
8. Starting at the left hand side of the timeline, ask students to read off the facts/images which they placed on the timeline.
9. Ask each group to summarize five key facts presented on the timeline. After students have written down their facts, ask them to share them with the class. (Possible facts to include: Alexander Hamilton was born on the island of Nevis. His mother died in 1768. He attended College at Kings College Columbia University United States, which is now. The American Revolution took place from 1775 to 1783. Alexander Hamilton fought in the American Revolution. Hamilton married Elizabeth Schuyler, served as the first Secretary of the Treasury and helped write George Washington’s farewell address. Hamilton was killed in a duel by Aaron Burr, the Vice President of the United States.)
10. Ask students to look closely at the paintings featured on the timeline. Ask them what type of information they can get from looking at the paintings. (Details about what people wore, their ages what they did; information about events, etc.)
11. Explain that some of the paintings of Alexander Hamilton and his peers were created by people who actually met him and lived during his lifetime (like the 1777 painting by Charles Wilson Peale and the “Surrender of Lord Cornwallis” by John Trumbull). Other paintings were created long after the subjects had passed away. (“Washington Crossing the Delaware,” an event which took place in 1776 and which was painted by Emmanuel Gottlieb Leutze, who was born in 1816 and created the painting in 1852). The artists who created the paintings long after the subjects were gone had to rely on previous paintings and verbal/written descriptions of people and events in order to create their paintings.
12. Ask students to compare and contrast the two paintings of Elizabeth Hamilton featured on the timeline (the one painted by Ralph Earl around 1787, when Elizabeth was about 30 years old and the other painted by Henry Inman around 1825, when she was about 68 years old). Ask students to discuss similarities and differences between how Elizabeth looks in both paintings and what each artist has decided to include in the painting.
13. Optional Activity: Explain that in many of the paintings which feature group scenes, the artists have featured specific people who participated in the event. Show students the key for the Surrender of Lord Cornwallis and ask students to use the key to identify the following people on the painting in the timeline:
Ask students to look for Lord Cornwallis in the painting. After a short period of time, point out that even though the painting is called “Surrender of Lord Cornwallis” and depicts the Surrender of Lord Cornwallis’ British troops, Cornwallis is actually not featured in the painting at all, since he was not present when his troops surrendered.
1. Explain that you will be playing a video from Rediscovering Alexander Hamilton, which uses paintings to help tell a story. Explain that you will first be playing the video segment without the sound. Ask students to write down what they think is happening in each painting shown in the video. Ask them to look at expressions on individual faces, as well as details in the paintings to get a sense of the mood and to gather details about the featured people and events.
2. Play The French Revolution with no sound. [Note: The image of Alexander Hamilton, shown at the beginning of the video, appears for more than 30 seconds, while the remaining images are shown for much shorter durations.] After showing the video, ask students to describe what they saw. Possible answers:
3. Explain that you will now be playing the video again with sound. Ask students to write additional details they discover as they watch and listen to the video.
4. Play The French Revolution one more time with sound. After playing the video, ask students discuss what they learned from the video. (The video begins by showing a successful at the height of his power and then discusses the French Revolution. It shows the Tennis Court Oath in 1789, where delegates promise a constitution to the French people. It also describes an armed mob storming the Bastille one month later looking for weapons and mentions that American opinion about the French Revolutions starts to split.)
5. Ask students to discuss some ways the paintings included in the segment provided information about the featured people and events. Discuss the artists’ use of colors and details to express the mood of the painting, as well as to provide information about the people and events featured.
6. Optional: Play one or more of the following videos (first without sound and then with sound) and ask students to observe and discuss the information presented through the paintings:
1. Ask students to work in groups to explore an online timeline of Alexander Hamilton. Here are two possible timelines which students can use:
2. Assign each group to one of the following time periods in Alexander Hamilton’s life:
3. Ask students to share their facts with the rest of the class and add any new details to the class timeline.
1. Ask students to work alone or in small groups to create timelines, including written descriptions, photographs and drawings or paintings of major events. Students can create timelines about one of the following:
2. Ask students to create at least one drawing or painting for their timeline. Encourage students to think about how they want to space the years on their timeline and whether they want to start the timeline with their date of birth or to include events that happened before they were born (such as the birth of their parents, etc.).
3. After students have completed their timelines, ask them to present them to the class.