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Putting It All Together


Few Americans have been as universally revered as George Washington both during his lifetime and after his death. The monument erected to his memory in Washington, D.C. seemed an opportunity to show the gratitude of the American people to the Father of their Country. The following activities will help students understand why people build memorials and how much thought goes into the design.

Activity 1: Qualities of a Leader
Divide the students into working groups of four or five. Have each group use textbooks and Reading 1 to compile a list of Washington's admirable qualities and achievements. Does the design of the Washington Monument reflect, either directly or indirectly, any of these qualities? If so, how?

Activity 2: Designing a Memorial
Have students divide into groups, then ask each group to decide on an American who should be honored with a memorial. This person may be male or female; historic or contemporary; or of national, state, or local importance. Next, ask students to list the characteristics of that person that should be represented and then develop two or three ideas about how their idea could be executed in a purely symbolic design. (Remind the students that a symbol is something that stands for or suggests something else by reason of relationship, association, or convention.) Each group should decide on the symbols they will use in their monument in place of a portrait or likeness of the person they are memorializing. Working together with whatever supplies you and the groups can muster, have the students create a model of their memorial. The model can be simple--made of crayon-decorated paper--or complex--modeled of clay and stucco or wooden building supplies. A written description of the ideas behind the structure should be included with each group's final project.

Activity 3: Local Memorial Study
Most communities memorialize their local heroes. Many memorials stand in front of or inside of public buildings such as town halls, courthouses, or school buildings; often those buildings themselves are named after someone in order to commemorate that person. Not all memorials enjoy such prominence, however: they may be small or stand in out-of-the-way places. Have the students, individually or in groups, select a local memorial to research. They should identify the person being memorialized, investigate the memorial, and report back to the class. Their report should try to answer the following questions: What did the person do to be considered worthy of a memorial? How long after the person's death was the memorial conceived? What individuals or groups remained most active in advocating the memorial? Did they encounter any opponents? What design criteria existed (if any)? How did the location of the memorial become selected? Was it a prominent one? If so, is it still prominent? Is the person memorialized still well known and still considered a hero? Why or why not? Student resources may include local or national histories and biographies, newspaper clippings, interviews (oral history), photographs, or other resources. The student or the groups should visit the site of the memorial and either take a photograph or make a drawing to share with the class. The finished product can be presented as a report to the class and may be exhibited on bulletin boards or in display cases. Finally, ask students to compare the design of memorials from different eras.

If any of the persons students selected in Activity 2 was someone prominent in the community's history, have students determine whether or not there is already a local memorial to that individual. If not, students could lobby their local representative(s) to begin the planning process for one. Students should consider their answers to the questions they asked of existing memorials in preparing their arguments for a new one honoring the local hero they identified. They might even submit a drawing of the memorial they designed as part of their petition.

 

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