Digital History>eXplorations>John Brown: Hero or Terrorist?>Teacher Resources>Lesson Plans>Will the Real John Brown Please Stand Up!>For Teachers

Will the Real John Brown Please Stand Up!

These plans were developed by CAP (Curriculum Arts Project) at symphonyspace and are reproduced here with their permission.

For Teachers

Overview | For Students


1. For this activity, you will need to show the painting "The Last Moments of John Brown". (Do not mention the title of the painting until after they have finished this activity.)

2. All students will also need the Art Questionnaire (in PDF format) if you want them to answer the questions in writing. If so, print it out and make a copy for each student to answer in writing. OR You can use the questions as a way to lead a discussion while looking at the painting. If this is your preference, you only need a copy for yourself. Read through the Art Questionnaire and decide which method would work best for your class.

3. All students will need a copy of the short New York Tribune article for Step C.

4. Computer Resources

Modem: 56.6 Kbps or faster.
Browser: Netscape Navigator 4.0 or above or Internet Explorer 4.0 or above.
Personal computer (Pentium II 350 MHz or Celeron 600 MHz) running Windows 95 or higher and at least 32 MB of RAM. Macintosh computer: System 8.1 or above and at least 32 MB of RAM.

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Before the Lesson

The teacher will need to do the following before beginning this lesson.

1. Review materials list and make sure you have located, and, if necessary, printed and copied those necessary for this lesson.

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Internet Resources Directory

Click here for websites providing supplementary information for students on John Brown, the Raid on Harper's Ferry, Abolition, and the Civil War. These websites are not essential to the lessons that follow.

However, in the Extensions section, there are follow-up reading, writing and looking activities, some of which reference these websites.

Note: Every website we link to was visited by our team before we activated the link to make sure it's appropriate for children. But we do not monitor or control these sites and they can change. In addition, many of these sites may have links to other sites, which we have not reviewed.

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A. Multiple perspectives (30 minutes / Discussion)

STEP 1: Remind students of some recent incident at school, such as a fight in the playground, a misunderstanding in the lunchroom, an accident in the parking lot, or some well-known recent news event. Whichever one you choose, there should be the potential for seeing it from a variety of viewpoints

STEP 2: For example, if a fight broke out in a soft ball game when the pitcher struck the batter with a ball, ask the students who among them thinks the pitcher was to blame (for starting the fight) and who among them thinks the batter was to blame.

STEP 3: Ask one of the pro-pitcher supporters to describe what happened. Ask one of the pro-batter supporters to describe what happened. Ask the class how the stories differed and/or were similar.

STEP 4: Lead a discussion with the class about how history can resemble what just happened in class. There are different versions of each event in history, depending on who is telling the story. Ask them to consider this question: do they think there can ever be only ONE accurate way to describe an event?

B. What a painting communicates about history (2 periods / Writing Activity/ Discussion)
For this activity, you will need to show the painting "The Last Moments of John Brown." Do not mention the title of the painting until after they have finished this activity. All students will also need the Art Questionnaire (see Materials).

STEP 1: Once students have both the painting and the questionnaire in front of them, ask them to fill out the questionnaire.

STEP 2: After they finish answering the questionnaire, you can lead a discussion comparing and contrasting their answers.

STEP 3: Then, they can get information about this painting by going to the Narrative in the "For Students" Section. (They could also read about John Brown and the raid on Harper's Ferry in their American History textbook.) Have students read this material to themselves or ask individual students to read sections aloud.

STEP 4: Discuss the narrative and compare the information in it to their observations about the painting.

C. What really happened? (1 period / Discussion)

STEP 1: Tell the class that the painter of this picture, Thomas Hovenden, painted "The Last Moments of John Brown" 25 years after the event. Here is part of the article from the New York Tribune, of December 5, 1859, which inspired him to depict this particular incident. Hand out copies of the article to the students. Please read it aloud to the class as they continue looking at the picture.

STEP 2: Go over some of the archaic language to make sure they understand it. Then, with the painting displayed, ask them the following questions:

• How did the artist, Thomas Hovenden, represent the main idea of each sentence in his painting? (Have a different student read each sentence of the article aloud before answering.)
• What is the New York Tribune reporter's attitude toward John Brown? How can you tell?
• How did Hovenden express this attitude in his painting? Do you think it is possible that the newspaper article and the painting do not accurately portray what really happened as John Brown left the jail? Give reasons for your answers.

STEP 3: Now read the following paragraph to your students.

According to a biographer of John Brown, this painting represents a made-up scene. The New York Tribune article that you read was not an accurate account of what happened, but an essay meant to inflame the feelings of northern abolitionists. In the biography, the author says that the scene portrayed would have been impossible, because all civilians (non-soldiers) were kept out of the area by the soldiers.

STEP 4: Ask them the following questions:

• What do you think of the biographer's opinion?
• This painting is quite famous. In fact, Thomas Hovenden painted five versions of it, which hang in museums around the United States. Even though the event shown in the painting isn't 100% accurate in every detail, it is quite possible that there are some "real" things and feelings that are portrayed in it. What do you think might be true, honest, or accurate in Hovenden's painting?

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Follow-up Reading, Writing, and Looking Activities (1-2 periods each)

1. Have your students write a short newspaper article, which expresses a negative opinion of John Brown.

2. Students can click on Newspaper Articles in the Student Resource Section to read some other newspaper reports of the event or on opinions about John Brown to learn how people from John Brown's time, both famous and relatively unknown, felt about him.

3. In the Student Resource Section, students can also view another painting of John Brown, right before his execution, by a 20th Century African-American artist, Horace Pippin, as well as photos and prints of John Brown at different times in his life.

4. Students can research material on John Brown, the Raid on Harpers Ferry, Abolition and the Civil War by going to the websites listed in the Internet Resource Directory. Your knowledge of the online resources is very important. Review the online materials from the websites, and if appropriate, print out and photocopy student copies of the online material.

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Overview | For Students

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