Colours of Humanity: Artistic representations of the "Other"

byRaymond Paul Marshall

“Colonialism is terrible, but Pho is delicious” –Dustin Chinn, playwright1


Inevitably, every high school student will encounter the subject of colonialism.  Unfortunately, in today’s political climate, this subject can be a very touchy one, fraught with possibilities for parental upset and administrative brow creasing.  It also, of course, carries the problem of most topics of history, the ever present student questions of “why should I care?  How does this affect me today?”  In this unit, I hope to help Social Studies students begin to answer both of these concerns, by looking at the art created by both the colonizing powers, as well as the vibrant cultures which found themselves the subject of colonization. 

But of course, merely looking at art from the Colombian period, or even Native American art from the pre-Columbian era, doesn’t give us the full picture, nor does it answer the students’ most common questions.  To do that, we have to bring this art into the present, and examine how it has evolved over time, as well as how our perceptions of one another are influenced by art today, as well as by art from the past. 

This is not going to be a story of defeated peoples, colonized by merciless conquerors and wiped from existence.  Nor is it going to be a story of a purely noble society overcoming the forces of darkness and ignorance in the new world.  Both are, I think, equally false, as neither one truly tells the whole story of the colonial period, as I intend to with this unit..  Instead, I hope for this unit to be one which will allows students to better appreciate how what we have done, whatever our cultural background, has led us to where we are today, for better and for worse, and how, as indicated by Dustin Chinn in the quote above, the evils of the past have created opportunities for new expressions for colonized peoples in modern society.  These expressions ripen and improve the culture which we, at least to some extent, all share today.

This unit will address these topics roughly chronologically, first focusing on the point of view of the colonial empires of Native Americans and enslaved Africans, then rolling back the clock to examine the same span of time from the other perspective, that of the colonized people.


Hearne High School is a Title One School in Hearne, TX.  Our student body is approximately 80-90% minority students, with Hispanic and African American students predominating.  As such, many of our students have some difficulty connecting with more traditional history curricula, with their focus on European history and advancements.  In addition, many students struggle with the question of “why does this matter?” when it comes to history, though this is of course not a unique problem to my school or district.  This unit will address both problems by giving focus to the cultures of men and women that share a heritage with my students, as well as examining how the incidents and conflicts of the colonial period still resonate in racial conflicts and relations in the present. 

This unit is intended to address these issues with this unit by allowing students to connect with their heritage, European, African, or American, through the art produced by those people.  The results will include engagement with the material, a new appreciation for the value of art in their lives, and the truths that it can convey, as well as a recognition that the issues faced by the people of the colonial period continue to inform the issues that they themselves face in day to day life in the modern era.

Through the use of art, students will be able to engage with the past in a way similar to the people the art was originally made for.  Their eyes will be seeing the same thing as the viewers two hundred years ago, and though their context will likely be quite different, it will still bring them closer to the material, and help them to recognize the inherent similarities they share with the people of the colonial period on both sides of colonization.

Being a largely minority community, the students of Hearne are very aware that, while racial equality has made great strides in the years since the Civil Rights Act, we are still far from living in a world where race has no bearing at all on one’s life.  Often one of the questions they have is “Why are things this way?”  Through seeing how their ancestors viewed one another, I will allow them to seek their own answers to this question through the art that those people created both of themselves and others. 

Course Content:  Pieces of art to be examined and discussed through the unit.

  • Amerigo Vespucci Awakens the New world2
    • Artist: Straet, Jan van der, 1523-1605
    • This print is from 1580, and depicts an allegorical depiction of how many Europeans viewed colonial efforts.
    • Questions one can ask based on this print: What are some contrasts between Vespucci and the “Spirit of America”? Are there Native Americans in this piece?  How are they portrayed?  How about the American land in general?
  • The Indian Princess3
    • Artist Unknown
    • From a girls’ school in Boston, the large central figure is identified as Native American due to her feathered headdress. Further, this seems to be another example of an Indian woman representing the concept of “America.” So this, then, is something that a girl of the students’ own age might have created based on their own understanding and knowledge of Native Americans.  What seems accurate, and what isn’t?  What similarities and differences do you see between this and Amerigo awakens the New World, in terms of the depiction of “America?”
  • Captain Cold, or Ut-ha-wah (Onondaga, ca. 1770–1845)4
    • Artist: William John Wilgus (American, 1819–1853)
    • Subject is a chief of the Six Nations, or Iroquois, Confederacy who fought with the United States against the British in the War of 1812.
    • A piece for later in the discussion, to aid in discussing the assimilation of colonized people into the colonial empire, in both positive and negative ways. What does his expression indicate? Is this piece of art taking the subject seriously, or is it portraying him still as “other”?
  • A Dance in Jamaica5
    • Emeric Essex Vidal, 1791–1861
    • This picture is of African women in the colony of Jamaica dancing. In the background are a platoon of British soldiers in classic “Redcoat” outfits. While the date is unknown, the artist was a naval officer in the British Navy stationed in the West Indies before the abolition of slavery in the empire in 1833. The presence of the army in the background, as well as the identity of the artist, both suggest the power structures in place to keep the population of enslaved peoples under control and prevent further uprisings like what had happened in Haiti only a few decades before.  What can you tell about the womens’ social status?  What do their movements indicate?
  • Koo, Koo, or Actor Boy6
    • Belisario, Isaac Mendes, 1795-1849
    • Drawing of one of the performers in the Jamaican Junkanoo shortly after the abolition of slavery through the British Empire. His costume incorporates various pieces of African imagery into this New World celebration. This particular Junkanoo was significant because it was expected by some to be the final one, as it was supposed that the newly freed men and women would no longer celebrate what had, before, been a holiday for enslaved people.  The festival, however, is still celebrated into the present day.  Of particular note, the white face mask is very similar to the ones worn by many West African cultures in their funeral and memorial rites, symbolizing the dead. What kind of tone does this costume represent?  The people behind the performer?
  • Haida people Argilite figure of a Russian Sea Captain7
    • Creator Unknown
    • The Haida are a Pacific tribe of Native Americans who live in what is now British Columbia, Canada. Their craftsmen would carve these figures out of Argilite in order to sell them to traders and travelers from across the Pacific who came to trade fish and crafted goods with the tribe.8 This particular figure is unusual in that the hands are out, rather than in the pockets of its coat, and that it appears to be grasping a ship’s railing as well. How does the expression of this figure strike you?  Does this seem, to you, to be a complementary depiction of its subject?
  • Cigar Store White Man9
    • George Blake
    • Carved by a master of Native American craftsmanship, known for creation of bows, dugout canoes, and other objects using traditional techniques, this sculpture is a humorous yet powerful reversal of the Cigar Store Indian.10 The Cigar Store Indian was a familiar presence in tobacco stores as early as the 1600’s, and served both as a reminder of the American origins of the tobacco plant as well as a convenient place to strike matches for customers. Does Blake’s mockery of the Cigar store White Man embody the stereotypical “white man” in the same way as the cigar store Indian did the Indian? How or why not?11
  • Jaw-Bone, or House John Canoe12
    • Belisario, Isaac Mendes, 1795-1849
    • From the same provenance as Koo Koo above, this piece is another example of the formerly enslaved Jamaicans celebration of Junkanoo, this time deliberately imitating a British citizen. The plantation house, worn as a hat, combines with the red coat, famous symbol of the British military, as well as the striped pants of the British Navy, to represent many of the most powerful symbols of the British empire. Do you think that the creator of this piece intends it to honor or to mock the British?
  • Hear Me Now Exhibition, Metropolitan Museum of Art13
    • Various
    • This exhibition is full of vases, jars, and other ceramic art, all manufactured in the American South before the abolition of slavery. Many feature bizarre and even alarming faces, the exact meaning of which remain mysterious. It must, however, be remembered that the creators of these vessels were African Americans surrounded by white faces who, in most cases, considered themselves better than black Americans.  Who do you think is shown in these vessels?  Why do they look the way that they do? 
  • Yoruba carving of Queen Victoria14
    • Creator Unknown
    • Probably carved in the late 1800’s, this statue recognizably depicts the Queen of the British Empire, Queen Victoria, in a style highly emblematic of the Yoruba people. The protruding eyes, enlarged head, and prominent bosom are all characteristic of Yoruba sculptures, but they are here turned to perhaps one of the greatest human symbols of Empire in all of European history. The enlarged head, in particular, was a great sign of respect, as the Yoruba recognized it as the most important part of the body.  Do you think that Queen Victoria, had she ever seen this piece, would have appreciated it?  How does it differ from her official British representations?15

Teaching Approach/philosophy

My approach to history emphasizes story telling.  So often, history is presented as a dry series of facts and numbers, stripped of any meaning to the students who are supposed to be learning them.  Why?  Because the state says that they’re supposed to.  This badly misses the mark in what makes history interesting in the first place.  Namely, that it is the story of us, as a species, as a nation, and as a community. 

As such, learning history means listening to or reading the stories of those who have come before.  Sometimes in their own words, where those are available, and sometimes from secondary sources.  Either way, stories of the people who did the things written of in the history books are much more likely to stick with a person than a simple recitation of the events themselves.  Why did they act as they did?  What were their goals?  I hope to bring this personal lens to my unit as well by looking at the colonists and the colonized peoples both on a wide scale and individually.  Why did the colonists exploit the natives?  What of those that knew it was wrong?  On the other hand, were the people of Africa and the Americas initially glad to see the Europeans?  When did this change, if it did?  Why?  Who led resistance to the colonizers?

Teaching Strategies:

  • Alien Invasion
    • For this unit, in order to put the students in the correct sort of mindspace, and to help them understand the story of colonization from both sides, it will be beneficial for you to make use of alien invasion imagery. What do I mean by this?
    • Ask your students to put themselves on both sides of the coin in your assignments.
    • Have them imagine themselves in the position of the invaders. They’re in search of resources, trade routes, wealth, new places to live, or any of the other reasons which colonial nations used to justify their actions. They land on a planet which no one even knew was there, much less inhabited, and find that its bursting with all of the things which they were sent to find, but there are already people there!  They look a little different, maybe they’re green or blue, but in every way anytone can tell, they are still humans.  But they’re not space faring.  They don’t have guns, or even metal to make armor or weapons with.  What would you do?  Emphasize that that is the choice which faced early explorers, and return to this metaphor as you discuss the aftermath of first contact, from diseases, to the Columbian Exchange, to other fallout from the event.
    • Secondly, after having worked within the above framework for the first half of the unit, flip it on its head. Suddenly the students are themselves the invaded people. An alien race has come to Earth.  They need water, which we have plenty of, but they also use weapons and material made of light that are much more powerful than anything we’ve ever dreamed of.  What can you do?  Do you try to resist them?  Again, use this framing device throughout the week, returning to it to talk about disease and the Columbian Exchange, as well as whatever other details you want to emphasize for a thorough discussion of colonialism.
  • Compare and contrast
    • For this unit, you will probably find it useful to find examples of artwork created both by the colonizing peoples, as well as the art of those being colonized. The resource section for this unit will have several examples to pull from, but feel free to select others based on your own personal taste, and what you think will interest your students.
    • In whatever format best suits your classroom, allow the students to closely examine each artwork, and make observations. Remember that no observation is too obvious, or worthless. Ask them what seems to be happening in the picture.  Does the artist seem to have a positive or a negative view of the subjects?  What are they doing?  If there are multiple figures, what seem to be the relationships at play in the art? 
    • After addressing the primary figures, have the students examine the background of the pictures. What does the setting tell us about what’s going on? Are there any subtle details in the background that you might miss without close examination?  What might those mean?
    • By utilizing this strategy with the art of both sides of the colonial power struggle, your students will likely begin to notice certain similarities and differences in how similar situations are portrayed differently depending on which side of the colonial conflict the artist is on. Once this idea has occurred to them, you can begin to extend this realization into the modern day, by asking how such differences in opinion or view might affect relations today?
  • Art Inspection
    • A useful tool in this unit will be examination of art, including but not limited to portraits, paintings, and Native American and African material art such as pottery and clothing.
    • Remember that in most of the artworks used and suggested for this unit, creating them was a very long and involved process.
      • Consequently, painters did not tend to include anything that, to them or their patron, was not in some way very significant.
      • If you keep the above fact in mind, and remind your students of it, you will be surprised how much detail and information one can find in what first may appear to be a simple painting
    • Begin by asking the students what they see. Don’t assume anything is too obvious. An inspection of a portrait of George Washington might well begin with “I see a man”.  From there, drill down further.  What is he wearing?  Does he appear rich or poor?  How is he posed?  (This last question tends to have strong significance, since the subjects’ pose is often the key to the tone of the whole piece.)  What about the background, if there is one?  What do you see there?  Where do you think this painting is placed, in time or space?  What might the background tell us about the character?
    • Provide them with the tools they need to dig further. You don’t need to be an expert in art to do this, use your historical knowledge. In the above example, if your students don’t know that the subject is Washington, inform them of that and listen to how, or if, that changes their analysis. Similarly, if you know details about the historical context of the characters or the time which they don’t, sprinkle those through the conversation to broaden and enrich the conversation. 
    • As your students dig into the art, allow for student led discussion. Let them cast their own life experiences and biases into the painting, and you may well hear interpretations that would never have occurred to you. Don’t be afraid to follow these up, and incorporate them into later parts of the unit as opportunities present themselves.

Course Material

  • American Nations, by Colin Woodard16
    • This work recasts American History not as a story of a unified country, as we so often tell it, but rather as a story of various nations of people who have, due to historical circumstance and sometimes necessity, found themselves presenting as a single country, the United States. It then uses this framework to examine, amongst other questions, how the different “American Nations” treated the indigenous people so differently, from the intermarriage and benign treatment of the French to the exploitative and hostile attitudes of the early English Puritans, and how these attitudes informed the actions of the United States all the way through westward expansion. This book, particularly the first set of chapters about the founding of the nations through Greater Appalachia, will be very valuable not only as a different way of looking at history, but will provide further depth to the Alien Invasion narrative device.  Ask the students, what if different factions of aliens treated your people differently than the others, some better, some worse.  How would you react?
  • America Pox, the Missing Plague17
    • It would be irresponsible to talk about the history of colonization without addressing the part that disease played in paving the way for the colonial powers in the New World. This video discusses some of the horrors of the plague of new disease that swept through Native American populations after the beginnings of European exploration, but is primarily focused on a question which is not often asked: Why didn’t a corresponding wave of disease hit Europe in return?  The reasons for this lack of “America Pox” in the history of medicine cast new light on how the people of the New World lived, and encourages students to break from a purely Occidental focused worldview to better appreciate the ways in which Pre-Columbian American society was, in some ways, superior to that of their European counterparts.  This can be used to not only allow for a better understanding of plagues of the New World, but also to reframe students’ understanding of the entire colonial process, as well as helping to answer common questions such as “why couldn’t the Indians fight back effectively?”
  • Yale Art gallery
    • Due to its generous access policy regarding usage of its artwork for these course units (and indeed in general) the Yale Art Gallery holds a large amount of artistic works suitable for discussion on this topic. As a result, I have made an effort to pull as many of these works as possible from their collection, both for the simplification of copyright issues in this unit, as well as to allow for easy access and presentation to any teachers who want to use it in the future. I encourage any teacher reading this to take some time to browse through the University’s expansive archive for any striking pieces of art not mentioned in this course unit summary, and replace any mentioned pieces of art with ones that they find more striking or relevant to their class’s interests. 

Unit Plan

  • Week 1,
    • Intro question: Should we colonize the Moon? Mars? Why or why not?
      • This question should lead to an interesting discussion of the upsides and downsides of colonizing another planet. Things students might bring up include resources, more room to live, security if something happens to Earth, etc.
    • Follow up Question: Would your answer change if we found out that there were already people living on Mars?
      • From this, you can take their earlier answers and apply them to the real status of the Americas at the beginning of the 1500’s. Emphasize that this is actually a fairly close approximation of how the existence of Native Americans would have impacted Europeans, who had previously had no idea that such a race of people existed.
    • Powerpoint on reasons behind Early American colonization
      • Desire to get around Ottoman Empire to China inspired Columbus
      • 1493 Woodcut: What are some differences you see above between the natives and the Europeans? How does this indicate how the Europeans felt about them?
      • Emphasize desire for new resources from Columbian exchange.
    • Opening question: Do you think something like a zombie apocalypse could ever happen? Something which leaves humanity holding on by its fingernails, unsure if we can come back from the brink of extinction? Why or why not?
    • America Pox, the Missing Plague:
    • Ask Questions at appropriate times: What do you think would happen to our society today if 9/10 of our population died? What advantages did Europe have when it came to diseases? Why did Americans not have those advantages?
      • What does this look like to you? Is it an actual plant or animal?
        • Kind of! It’s cotton!  Europeans had never heard of such a thing, and so when explorers started to bring back cotton from the New World, they heard that it came from a plant and made an association between cotton and the closest fiber they were familiar with, wool.  Thus the vegetable lamb was conceived of!
    • Matching/sorting activity: Two columns, America and Europe. List of plants and animals, list of advantages that an animal or plant would bring to a society, students will need to match animal or plant with region of origin, then with the advantage it creates
      • Example: Potato: American, A cheaply grown and energy efficient crop.
      • Horses: European, allows for swift transportation of goods and people across long distances.
    • Examination of art and political cartoons from the colonial periods, from the colonists’ perspective. This will include European art of both Native American peoples as well as enslaved Africans in the American South and the Caribbean. Use the first five examples from the Course Content section above for examples, and feel free to provide your own, as well.  This will include discussions of several different aspects of the process:

1. the diseases brought by the colonists that crippled native resistance and destroyed most of the extant American nations,

2.The search for resources and the economic structure which made colonization so attractive

  • European explorers were looking for a way to bypass the Ottoman Empire and the taxes that they would have been required to pay to transport silk and spices through the Islamic Empire from China and India. After the discovery of the Americas, each European country was incentivized to establish New World colonies to send resources back to the home country that could then be sold to other countries. These started out as valuable metals for the Spanish, before the discovery and commoditization of tobacco and cotton by the English.  The colonies themselves were forbidden from benefiting directly from these trade arrangements, with the mother country always acting as the middle man in any trade networks to or from the colonies.

3. The depictions of native peoples in media “back home”, both positive and negative, with discussions of how those may have been helpful or harmful to native people.

  • This should show a wide range. For the sake of keeping the unit to a manageable size, this unit will primarily be focusing on depictions of enslaved people from Africa and Native Americans, but those who pick up this unit should feel free to tailor their focuses according to what they believe their students will find most engaging.  The first five pieces of art in the course content section above are good examples of the types of art in question, but feel free to use other relevant art that you might prefer. 

4. A reading and examination of “The White Man’s Burden”20 by Rudyard Kipling, and the racial politics that it espouses.

  • Kipling, writing in the late 1800’s, espoused the view, common in European society at the time, that colonization was to the benefit of the conquered people. This belief that they were “uplifting” the colonized people acted to excuse the many exploitative practices put in place by the European empires upon native societies. 

5. Results of the Columbian Exchange on food and the economy in the Old World

  • The largest impact on European countries was New World plants. Tobacco was the first to become a major cash crop, followed by cotton as the Industrial Revolution began to spin up in England.  Foodwise, tomatoes and potatoes became staple foods once their resemblance to nightshade was overcome. 

Week 2: American Nations: Overview of the theory, and of the Nations themselves.

  1. What is a Nation? Is it different from a country?21
    • A country is a governmental entity, a government recognized by others. A nation is a social entity, which can exist within or between countries.  Western tradition has tended to conflate these two, using them interchangeably, because many of the European nations are also the European countries.  e. France is where French people live, Germany where Germans live, etc.  This was not always the case, as many of the European empires, such as the Holy Roman Empire or the Soviet Union, contained various nations that in some cases only recently became countries.
      • Discussion Question: Does America have its own culture? Chances are some number of students will argue that we do not. Use the Nationhood lab website (  and the American Nations breakdown below to illustrate that the United States, in fact, has many different cultures within its borders, and that the culture of your state or region may be much different from that of a region or state on the far side of the country.
      • Based on what you know or have heard about other states, how are your students different from, for instance, someone in California, or Texas, or New York? How are they similar? What are some explanations you can think of for why that may be?
      • Select one of the topics on the Nationhood lab website, such as views on gun control or voting patterns, and have the students read the article.
        • Assignment questions: Does the article line up with what you’d expect?  Why or why not?  Were you surprised at how far apart different parts of the same country could be on the same topic?  Do you agree or disagree with your own nation’s general view?  How might you try to convince someone who disagrees with you?
  2. How did the American Nations form?
    • The American nations were first influenced by the colonial nations which settled them, with El Norte being first settle by the Spanish, New France by the French, the New Netherlands by a mixture of Dutch and English, and the rest settled by successive waves of primarily British settlers, from the Puritans of the Northeast to the Scots-Irish settlers of Appalachia.
      • Discussion: What might make someone want to venture thousands of miles from their home, with no guarantee of safety or even survival? Answers might include looking for a better life, opportunity, money, etc. 
        • Indeed, many early settlers were influenced by exactly those things, and that shaped their expansion. They followed the money, as it were.  Beaver pelts in the North, rumors of gold and silver in the South, and later new cash crops such as tobacco and cotton. 
      • Where did the first Europeans enter America? (the Spanish in Central America)
      • What part of the United States was first settled by the English? (The East Coast)
    • Secondly, each nation was heavily influenced by its attitudes towards and practice of slavery. The Deep South tended to be the most in favor of, and the most brutal in its practice of chattel slavery, whereas the North tended more towards abolitionism and at most debt bondage, with the other regions somewhere between those extremes. 
      • These divisions would take on great importance during the Civil War, when the nations of the Deep South and Tidewater broke with the rest of the country to form the Confederacy in defense of their supposed right to practice slavery. Both nations had heavily tied their economies into taking advantage of the forced labor of enslaved people, and considered it their own right to live richly off the profits that they garnered from it. They made comparisons to the Ancient Greeks, considering themselves, like the Greeks, to be a nation of philosopher kings supported by the forced labor of the conquered, and that this was a noble and correct way for society to function.
  3. Overview of the major American Nations that started in the colonial period.
    • El Norte22: First of the American Nations, settled by the Spanish as an extension of the colony which would become Mexico. Abolished slavery early, and developed a unique culture from Central and Southern Mexico even before annexation by the United States as a result of the limited resources allocated to them by the Central Spanish, and later Mexican government.  Tended towards independence and Catholicism, with a heavy emphasis on missionary work and self-sufficiency.
    • Yankeedom23: The first broadly successful English colony in the New World, settled by the Puritans based on their religious and social mores. This resulted in very tightly knit communities where every citizen was expected to participate and contribute to the town, but where all other viewpoints, religious or otherwise, were deemed inferior and to be exterminated or converted at the earliest opportunity.
    • New Netherlands24: First established by the Dutch in and around the city of New Netherlands, this nation began as a very mercantile region. The Dutch were generally disinterested in the strict prohibitions and beliefs of their Yankee neighbors to the North, preferring to focus primarily on the business of doing business, with locals, Native Americans, visiting traders, etc.  This cosmopolitan inclination carried over when the British conquered the city and renamed it New York, and has remained an earmark of the nation to this day. 
    • Tidewater25: While technically the first New World nation to be settled by the English, the region around Virginia never really found prosperity until the demand for tobacco necessitated the creation of plantations in the region. These plantations would form one of the first major economic centers of English North America, as well as the first major markets for enslaved people from Africa and the Caribbean.
    • Deep South26: As the practice of slavery spread from Tidewater, the next region to be majorly affected by it was the Deep South.  There, cotton rather than tobacco would become the cornerstone of the economy, particularly after the invention of the cotton gin made the production of that crop much more efficient. Slavery was most heavily practiced in this region, to a degree and severity that made even some Caribbean overseers uncomfortable.  In the 1800’s, this nation would be the driving force behind the Confederacy. 
    • Greater Appalachia27: Primarily populated by Scots-Irish immigrants, Appalachia was the last nation settled before the Revolutionary War. This nation, perhaps more than any other, has tended towards fierce independence, both from England in the 1700’s, as well as from the United States federal government throughout the rest of U.S. history. 
  4. Overview of those that came later.
    • Left Coast28: Settled primarily by missionaries and traders from Yankeedom, this nation has tended to show a similarly collectivist bent, but with slightly more of a Western emphasis on individualism and less on industry.
    • Far West29: Most of what is today thought of as the “Old West” was, by the late 1800’s, either purchased by private industries for its mineral wealth, or retained as publicly owned land by the Federal Government. As a result, despite their individualist preferences, the inhabitants of the Far West tend to be heavily dependent on the regulations and whims of foreign entities, whether Eastern corporations of the Federal government half a continent away.  The Far West might be considered an internal colony of the United States. 

Week 3: Flip the story the other way around, and look at the process from the native peoples’ perspective:

  1. What did they think about this apocalyptic series of plagues? How did it affect their cities and nations?
    • By some estimates, as much as 95% of the population of the Americas was wiped out by a combination of casualties from conquest and European diseases within . Native American cultures before Columbus built cities such as Cahokia (population ~20,000) and Tenochtitlan (population ~300,000), but by the time a generation had passed after Columbus’ discovery of the New World, all of these cities had been abandoned and depopulated, with the survivors in many cases being forced to adopt the nomadic existence we often associate with the Native American societies. 
  2. How did native peoples view the colonists? What can their art show us about this question?
    • See the last five of the resources above for good examples of Native American and African art depicting Europeans and their societies from both the colonial era and some time thereafter. These resources should guide your discussion of the topic with the students.  Make sure to allow them time and opportunity to discuss what they see, and how it indicates the colonialized people felt about European invaders.
  3. First hand accounts of resistance and collaboration with the colonists from native people.
    • Of particular interest would be the invasion of Tenochtitlan, as the people of the Aztec Empire both fought with and against the Spanish. The legend of Malinche, a possibly folkloric figure from this time, encapsulates the complicated feelings the invasion created amongst the people of the Empire, particularly in her possible relationship with the Mexican ghost story of La Llorona. 
  4. Effects of Columbian exchange on people of the New World.
    • American societies adapted quickly to the use of metal in weapons and tools, and such items were highly sought after for some time. Additionally, many Plains societies incorporated horses into their lifestyles, utilizing them for both hunting and travel.  So completely did they integrate this formerly foreign creature into their cultures that today we often associate horses with people like the Cherokee and Apache more than any other animal, despite the fact that none of them would have ever seen a horse before the early 1500’s. 
  5. Read and discuss “The Black Man’s Burden” by H.T. Johnson, an African American clergyman who wrote the poem as a direct response to Kipling’s.  How does his perspective differ from Kipling’s?  Who do you think has the better point?


For the first week, for a general examination of the American plagues, I will be using the CGP Grey video “Americapox” which explains why there was not a countervailing plague that affected the Old World from America, with similarly terrible results.  For depictions of native peoples, I will be utilizing various old newspapers retrieved from online sources and databases, as well as the book Political Cartoons by Charles Press for additional context and visual resources. 

Another subject I would like to work into the section on the America’s is the Nationhood theory of American Nations, as I think it is a useful lens through which to examine our nation’s history.  This is particularly relevant to my 10th graders, as it’s a tool I’d very much like them to have going into the US History tests the following year.  While it is not specifically art focused, art could be used to support the theory, as the treatment of natives and African slaves are both key concepts of the differentiation between the American nations.  It’s possible that this topic would be best addressed in a third week, but I’ll have to further develop what I want to do with it, either way. 

In regards to the second portion, focused more on the native peoples and their experiences, singular works are a somewhat harder to find. This unit will rely rather more heavily on specific examples, including the wooden Nigerian sculpture of Queen Victoria in the Pitt Rivers museum, and the Met Gallery’s South India chintz painting of a European conflict as seen by a South Indian artist.  I would also like to challenge the students to try to put themselves in the shoes of people who had never seen or heard of metal armor or guns before, and what kind of strange things those would be to people with no experience with them, probably with some manner of drawing or creative writing exercise (potentially both, to allow for differentiation and student choice.

Overall, I’m very excited to teach and further develop this unit in the intensive session of the program, and look forward to further developing it with the assistance of all of the other educators going through the program.  I expect that the points of view from our representatives from the Navajo nation will be particularly helpful in this endeavor. 


  1. “1965.10.1.” n.d. Accessed June 23, 2023.
  2. Baldassarri, Fabrizio. 2021. “The Vegetable Lamb of Tartary: Renaissance Philosophy, Magic, and Botany - JHI Blog.” - JHI Blog.  vegetable-lamb-of-tartary-renaissance-philosophy-magic-and-botany/.
  3. Belisario, Isaac M. 1837. “Sketches of character : in illustration of the habits, occupation, and costume of the Negro population, in the island of Jamaica / drawn after   nature, and in lithography, by I.M. Belisario. - YCBA Collections Search.” Yale   Center for British Art
  4. Blake, George. 1995. “Cigar Store (White) Man.” Crocker Art Museum. 
  5. Cigar-store Indian at the Oldest Store Museum in St. Augustine. 1969 (circa). State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory.   <>, accessed 14 August  
  6. Grey, CGP. 2015. “Americapox: The Missing Plague.” YouTube Video. YouTube.
  7. “Hanging Depicting a European Conflict in South India | Indian, Coromandel Coast, for British Market.” n.d. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Accessed June 23, 2023.
  8. “Hear Me Now: The Black Potters of Old Edgefield, South Carolina.” n.d. The Metropolitan  Museum of Art. Accessed August 14, 2023.
  9. Hovens, Pieter, and Bruce Bernstein, eds. 2015. North American Indian Art: Masterpieces and Museum Collections in the Netherlands. N.p.: National   Museum of Ethnology.
  10. Kipling, Rudyard. 1899. “The White Man's Burden – The Kipling Society.” The Kipling
  11. LaPena, Frank R., Mark D. Johnson, and Kristina P. Gilmore, eds. 2019. When I Remember I See Red: American Indian Art and Activism in California. N.p.:   University of California Press.
  12. Straet, Jan V. 1580. “Digital Collections - America.” NYPL Digital Collections. https://
  13. Tsai, Luke. 2022. “‘Colonialism Is Terrible, But Pho Is Delicious’ Is a Play About Food and Ownership.” KQED.  terrible-but-pho-is-delicious-is-a-play-about-food-and-ownership.
  14. 1750. “The Indian Princess.” Met Museum.  art/collection/search/13750?when=A.D.+1600-  1800&amp;ft=american+indian&amp;offset=0&amp;rpp=40&amp;pos=12.
  15. c. 1850. “A Haida argillite figure of a Russian sea captain Circa 1840-1870 32cm.” Bonhams.
  16. c. 1875. “Collections online | Pitt Rivers Museum.” Pitt Rivers Museum.
  17. 1897. “Golden Jubilee Portrait of Queen Victoria.” Art UK.  73709.
  18. Vidal, Emeric E. Undated. “A Dance in Jamaica - YCBA Collections Search.” Yale Center for British Art.
  19. Wilgus, William J. 1838. “Captain Cold, or Ut-ha-wah (Onondaga, ca. 1770–1845).” Yale University Art Gallery.
  20. Winick, Stephen, and Raúl A. Fernández. 2021. “La Llorona: Roots, Branches, and the Missing Link from Spain | Folklife Today.” Library of Congress Blogs.   https://  from-spain/.
  21. Woodard, Colin. 2011. American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America. N.p.: Viking.

Appendix on Implementing District Standards:

(B6) Students identify the role of the U.S. free enterprise system within the parameters of this course and understand that this system may also be referenced as capitalism or the free market system.

This unit addresses this requirement inherently, in that it will examine in some detail the role that early capitalist systems, such as the West India companies westward expansion, and the plantation economy, affected both Native Americans and the enslaved peoples abducted from their own nations, as well as how many of those same systems continue to affect their descendants today.

(F6) History. The student understands the characteristics and impact of the Maya, Inca, and Aztec civilizations. The student is expected to:

(A) compare the major political, economic, social, and cultural developments of the Maya, Inca, and Aztec civilizations and explain how prior civilizations influenced their development; and

(B) explain how the Inca and Aztec empires were impacted by European exploration/colonization.

These requirements will be addressed in this unit with a look at Mesoamerican art, as well as the impact that disease had on the destruction of these empires in the period after European contact.

7) History. The student understands the causes and impact of increased global interaction from 1450 to 1750. The student is expected to:

(A) analyze the causes of European expansion from 1450 to 1750;

(B) explain the impact of the Columbian Exchange;

(C) explain the impact of the Atlantic slave trade on West Africa and the Americas;

This unit will examine and analyze European expansion through this period using its artwork, as well as the impact of the Columbian Exchange on both the people of the New World and Europe.  Significant attention will also be devoted to examining the art of enslaved people in what would become the United States, as well as the Caribbean.

(8) History. The student understands the causes and the global impact of the Industrial Revolution and European imperialism from 1750 to 1914. The student is expected to:

(B) identify the major political, economic, and social motivations that influenced European imperialism;

(C) explain the major characteristics and impact of European imperialism; and

Through this unit, students will reach a better understanding of much of the reasoning for imperialism, economic, philosophical, and moral, and examine how these reasons have affected treatment of colonized people into the modern era. They will also see many of the similarities between various colonial nations in terms of how they treated the people who fell beneath their power.

End Notes

  1. Tsai “‘Colonialism Is Terrible, But Pho Is Delicious’ Is a Play About Food and Ownership.” 2022
  2. Straet “Digital Collections - America.” 1580
  3. “The Indian Princess.”1750
  4. Wilgus “Captain Cold, or Ut-ha-wah (Onondaga, ca. 1770–1845)” 1838
  5. Vidal, Emeric E. “A Dance in Jamaica - YCBA Collections Search.” Undated.
  6. Belisario, Isaac M.. “Sketches of character : in illustration of the habits, occupation, and costume of the Negro population, in the island of Jamaica / drawn after nature, and in lithography, by I.M. Belisario. - YCBA Collections Search.” 1837
  7. . “A Haida argillite figure of a Russian sea captain Circa 1840-1870 32cm.” c. 1850
  8. Hovens and Bernstein North American Indian Art: Masterpieces and Museum Collections in the Netherlands. 2015, 284
  9. Blake, George. “Cigar Store (White) Man.” 1995.
  10. Cigar-store Indian at the Oldest Store Museum in St. Augustine. 1969 (circa).
  11. LaPena, Johnson, and Gilmore 2019, 33
  12. Belisario, “Sketches of character : in illustration of the habits, occupation, and costume of the Negro population, in the island of Jamaica / drawn after nature, and in lithography, by I.M. Belisario, 11, 1837
  13. Hear Me Now: The Black Potters of Old Edgefield, South Carolina.”d. The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
  14. “Collections online | Pitt Rivers Museum.” . c. 1875
  15. Woodard, American Nations
  16. . “Golden Jubilee Portrait of Queen Victoria.” 1897
  17. Grey, CGP. “Americapox: The Missing Plague.”
  18. Ibid
  19. Baldassarri, Fabrizio. “The Vegetable Lamb of Tartary: Renaissance Philosophy, Magic, and Botany - JHI Blog. 2021.
  20. Kipling, White Man’s Burden,  1899
  21. Woodard, American Nations, 2011, 3
  22. Ibid 23-33
  23. Ibid 57-64
  24. Ibid 65-72
  25. Ibid 44-56
  26. Ibid 82-91
  27. Ibid 101-114
  28. Ibid 216-223
  29. Ibid 243-253

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