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Literature and Visual Art of the Urban Experience

This unit will expose students to the developing views on the American urban experience through examples of writing and art in the late 19th and 20th centuries.  Using writings by Emerson and Thoreau, and paintings by Thomas Cole, students will analyze the 19th century rejection of the urban, only to find in Whitman's poetry a growing sense of the urban as the symbol of America's modernity.  Students will then shift their attention to 20th century writers Colson Whitehead and Thomas Agee, as well as street art epitomized by the Mural Arts Program, to analyze the 20th century understanding of America's urban centers.

            Students will choose either two pieces of literature or two pieces of artwork, one modern, one 19th century, and write a multi-page comparative analytical essay with complementing research done on the appropriate artists.  Students will write a two paragraph proposal that sets out the artists they have chosen, what points they will try to make, and what sources they will use to find support for that thesis.  Students will need to research the life and works of the artists they choose, select a specific piece of work to analyze, and create a unique thesis that can be supported.  Papers will be at least five pages in length and must abide by all MLA standards.

            In addition, students will create a walking tour of their city or neighborhood.  Using digital photography, iMovie, PowerPoint, and music programs, students will take the class on a tour of a particular part of their city, highlighting what they want others to see and understand.  This presentation will go hand in hand with a written element that allows students to creatively and analytically discuss their city or neighborhood. 

This unit is intended for upper high school students, ideally in grades 11 and/or 12.   This unit will demand a significant amount of classroom time ranging between two and three months.  Due time must be spent introducing the unit's central themes, reading and analyzing key texts, assessing student mastery of themes and writing techniques, as well as the successful completion of student projects. 


Zachary F. Wright
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