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ERIC Number: EJ765202
Record Type: Journal
Publication Date: 2005-Aug
Pages: 13
Abstractor: ERIC
ISSN: ISSN-0018-2745
The Rhode Island "Washington": Meaning Making in Social Studies through Art History
Piro, Joseph M.
History Teacher, v38 n4 p483-495 Aug 2005
The Rhode Island State House in Providence is an imposing structure. It is also an architecturally significant one. Built of white Georgia marble between 1895 and 1904, it has one of only four self-supporting marble covered domes found in the world. It was placed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1971. Looking around, one encounters many diverse historical artifacts such as a small Rhode Island flag that orbited the moon during the Apollo II mission and the silver service set of the battleship "USS Rhode Island". However, on the west wall hangs the room's real treasure--an 1802 full-length portrait of George Washington by America's premier portrait artist Gilbert Stuart. At first nothing about it jumps out at you. After all, Washington's image is everywhere in the United States, and certainly appropriate in the context of an American government state house. But a full-length portrait of Washington and by an artist of the stature of Gilbert Stuart? What could be the story behind this particular work and how and why did it find its way here? One might think that such questions, asked about any prominent portrait, especially one of Washington, would pique the curiosity of teachers and students and provide a teacher the opportunity for turning a class into full-scale history detectives. However, in a study by the National Center for History in the Schools, when high school teachers of world and American history were surveyed as to the frequency with which they used various instructional materials in the classroom, approximately ninety percent of American and sixty-four percent of world history teachers indicated they "seldom" or "never" used art in studying a historical period. The infrequent use of art remains true even though there has been an increase in document-based learning in classrooms along with increasing numbers of high school students enrolling in art classes. Omission of paintings, in particular, deprives teachers and students of a potent instructional tool for interpreting the past, one inspiring hands-on, inquiry-based, problem-solving behaviors. This article speaks to this state of affairs by focusing on one painting--the Rhode Island "George Washington" portrait--discussing its historical background and context, tracing its route to Rhode Island, and suggesting how all teachers can use paintings as compelling and challenging tools in building historical literacy. (Contains 3 figures, 19 notes and 18 online resources.)
Society for History Education. California State University, Long Beach, 1250 Bellflower Blvd, Long Beach, CA 90840-1601. Tel: 562-985-2573; Fax: 562-985-5431; Web site:
Publication Type: Journal Articles; Reports - Descriptive
Education Level: N/A
Audience: N/A
Language: English
Sponsor: N/A
Authoring Institution: N/A
Identifiers - Location: Rhode Island
Grant or Contract Numbers: N/A