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MFA for Educators

Engage your students with the collections of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, to illustrate themes and concepts in any discipline.

The Defining of an American People

During the mid-19th century Westward Expansion, the American public relied on artists' depictions of the landscape and the unfamiliar "Indians" to inform their opinions and decision-making before heading West themselves.  This was done through the painting and drawing of an evolving image of the Native tribal communities and the influence these artists had could be felt all the way to Washington D.C.

Given the careful inclusion of multiple Native American voices in the Autry's exhibits, the goal of this lesson is for students to understand how the media and popular culture have shaped the general public's opinions of Native Americans over time.  Intended as a follow up lesson to a visit to the Autry Museum in Los Angeles, CA, this slideshow can be used both in the classroom through projectors to lead discussions or viewed at home by the students for discussion the next day. 

This lesson fits the 8th grade California content standard for History and Social Sciences, section 8.8, stating that students learn "the divergent paths of the American people in the West from 1800 to the mid-1800s and the challenges they faced."  The discussions invoked with this slideshow will also begin to prepare students for the specific intellectual analysis skills they are expected to be able to learn and apply in 9th grade and beyond, specifically chronological and spacial thinking as well as "identifying bias and predjudice in historical interpretations".

Art and art history teachers in high schools may also adapt this lesson to teach the power of art to deliver a specific message and how art can influence opinion.

Created By

Emily Baker


History/Social Studies, The Arts

Grade Level

6-8, 9-12