Lesson Plans

Lesson Plans Recommended for Grades 9-12

Introduction | Lesson 1 | Lesson 2 | Lesson 3

Lesson 1: An Inspirational Monument

Discussion questions and activities
This multi-day lesson may be used by teachers of Advanced Placement U.S. History, perhaps in the period of time after the AP Exam has been given. Instructional materials such as films, poetry, and music are listed in the Selected Bibliography.

  • Provide students with a brief introductory lecture on public space, public sculpture, and public memory. Teachers should consult the following materials prior to this lecture: Michael Kammen's Mystic Chords of Memory, Spiro Kostoff's America by Design, and George Leslie Katz' essay in The American Monument.
  • Provide students with a lecture on the life and works of Augustus Saint-Gaudens. Teachers may wish to show their classes the film Augustus Saint-Gaudens: An American Original, 28 minutes, 1985, from Our Town Films (contact Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site, (603) 675-2175), which offers a good introduction to the life and work of the artist.
  • Provide students with a copy of the Historical Head Worksheet and ask them to complete it according to the directions.
  • Discuss with students their impressions of Saint-Gaudens and the scope of his work.
  • Show students the motion picture Glory (available at video stores) followed up with a showing of any one of the historical documentaries related to the Massachusetts Fifty-fourth Regiment. Ask students the following questions:
    1. How would you compare the films?
    2. Which film is a more valid interpretation of the history of the Massachusetts Fifty-fourth Regiment? Why?
    3. Draw up a list of documentary information provided by both films. Which film seems to have more? Why?
    4. If students conclude that the documentary is a more accurate interpretation of history, ask them why and how they have reached this conclusion.
  • Provide students with additional background information related to the monument. Use various images of the memorial. As students examine these illustrations, ask them what they see. Ask the students if the images seem to be validated by the story of the Massachusetts Fifty-fourth Regiment depicted in any of the films they watched. You may want to use the Photograph Analysis Worksheet to guide your class through this activity.
  • Discuss at length with students how the memorial's design changed as Saint-Gaudens worked on it. Be sure to show students the various designs created by Saint-Gaudens as the project evolved. Make certain that students are clear on how the artist acquiesced to the Shaw family's request to include the infantrymen as part of the artistic composition. Ask students if they think the finished product presented to the City of Boston is a more appropriate design than the one Saint-Gaudens originally envisioned, and why or why not.
  • At this point be sure that the students are familiar with the information presented so far before moving to the next phase of the lesson.
  • Provide students with copies of four of the thirty or more poems that have been written about the memorial. The recommended poems are Robert Lowell's "For the Union Dead," Charles Ives' "Moving, Marching, Faces of Souls," John Berryman's "Boston Common," and Paul Lawrence Dunbar's "Robert Gould Shaw." Tell the students that these poems were inspired by both the Saint-Gaudens monument and the story of the Massachusetts Fifty-fourth Regiment. Background reading by the teacher will be needed to help set these poems in their proper historical context. Students should be aware of the time period when these poems were written. If your school has a creative writing or poetry class, invite a dynamic student from that class to conduct a dramatic reading of the poems. Have your students follow the reading along. After the listening/reading exercise ask students the following questions:
    1. Which poem did they like? Why?
    2. Which poem best tells the story of the Massachusetts Fifty-fourth Regiment? Why?
    3. Which poem best interprets the monument? Why?
    4. Why do the more recent poems have a bitter edge?
  • Play a classical American music interpretation of the monument, Charles Ives' "The Saint-Gaudens on Boston Common," after playing renditions of the Civil War era songs "The Battle Cry of Freedom" and "Marching through Georgia." Advise students that they need to listen carefully to these pieces, because Ives incorporated them thematically into his nine-minute work. Ask students the following:
    1. Did they hear the strains of the two Civil War pieces? Why would Ives incorporate these melodies into his work?
    2. How do they see the music as an interpretation of the monument and the story of the Massachusetts Fifty-fourth Regiment?
  • Ask the students why they think that this memorial by Saint-Gaudens inspired other arts, such as song, film, and poetry. What gives the sculpture this power?
  • Ask students which material among those presented to them best relates the story of the Massachusetts Fifty-fourth Regiment and why.
  • Ask students to write a one-page dedication speech to Shaw and the men of the Massachusetts Fifty-fourth Regiment. Have students share their speeches with the class. Then refer students to the actual dedication speeches given in 1897, compiled in The Monument to Robert Gould Shaw: Its Inception, Completion, and Unveiling 1865-1897 (Boston and New York, 1897). Compare the points students make in their speeches with those made one hundred years ago.

Extended Activities:

  • Have students design their own memorial to Shaw and the Regiment.
  • Have students write their own poems about the sculpture, Shaw, and the Regiment.
  • Have students research other African-American units that served in the Civil War as well as the United States Colored Troops.
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Lesson PlansSelected BibliographyRelated WebsitesRelated Works
IntroductionThe ArtistHistorical BackgroundThe Memorial and Its ConservationThe ExhibitionTeaching Resources

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