Lesson title: Comparing and Contrasting Views of Colonial Boston’s Harbor
Overview: This lesson involves comparing and contrasting the work of two local colonial Boston artists who presented different views of Boston Harbor twenty-five years apart. There are notable characteristics in each which have historical significance. A discussion of these images can lead students to an analysis of economic and social aspects of colonial Boston; the images point to the importance of the harbor and all of the economic activities that went with it, as well as the church. The discussions of the artwork should take about 20 minutes, with an additional 20 minutes needed to create a compare/contrast chart.
Historical background: Boston was the largest town in colonial New England in the eighteenth century, with a strong sea-faring and mercantile identity. Despite a period of economic stagnation in mid-century, it remained a vibrant community, oriented to the harbor which served as a conduit for the exchange of goods between England and America. From its founding in 1630, Boston had been distinguished by the piety of its inhabitants. Numerous churches with prominent steeples define the colonial town's skyline in Turner's image. Paul Revere's 1770 engraving, an image with a specific political context and critique, presents the moment in 1768, when British troops arrived in the restless town. They had been sent in response to colonial protests against British legislation. Their arrival prompted a fury of anger at imperial authorities. Two years later, in 1770, some of these troops were involved in the Boston Massacre.
Guiding questions: What details of the Boston harbor are evident in each engraving? Describe the buildings, objects, and actions in each artwork. How might details in the artwork relate to or reflect economic and/or political conditions of the times?
Learning Objective: Students will analyze two artists' views of colonial Boston in the mid-eighteenth century to explore economic, religious, and political facets of community life.
Activities: Begin the lesson by distributing copies (or have an overhead transparency) of James Turner’s 1745 engraving of Boston Harbor. Have students notice as many details as possible, trying to relate what is in the artwork to what life might have been like in Boston at that time. Then distribute copies of Paul Revere’s 1770 engraving of the 1768 landing of British troops in Boston harbor. Again, have students notice details, relating them to what was happening in Boston during that period. This activity may be one of the first times students have compared historical artwork, so you may have to supply some historical details to keep the discussions flowing.
Assessment: Have students create a Venn diagram (or a double-bubble compare/contrast chart) using the two historical engravings of Boston harbor.
Extending lesson: Write a brief essay extending the comparison chart into paragraph form. Have students write an introductory paragraph stating which two pieces of art are being compared. Then create a paragraph with similarities between the engravings and another paragraph describing the differences. Be sure to encourage the use of transitional words to make their ideas flow better. The essay should end with a conclusion which could include personal opinions about the engravings.