Ancient Art Teachers Institute at the Legion of Honor

The Fine Arts Museums’ collection of antiquities has played a central role in the development of both the de Young and the Legion of Honor. This summer, we offered a teacher institute for sixth grade teachers to enrich their schools by using our ancient art collections in their curricula. This program, presented in partnership with the UC Berkeley History–Social Studies Project (UCBH-SSP), gave teachers the tools to teach students how to think like historians.

Isaiah West Taber (American, 1830–1912). The Fine Arts Building on Midway, 1894. Gelatin silver print. California Midwinter International Exposition, through M.H. de Young. 2461

For one week in July we gathered at the Legion, transforming the Florence Gould Theater into a classroom. Teachers came from as far away as Fresno to attend history lectures presented by UC Berkeley professors and graduate students, and to participate in workshops focused on strategies to help eleven- and twelve-year-olds think, read, and write critically about the past.

On our first day at the Legion, UC Berkeley History Department faculty member Carlos Noreña offered multiple case studies detailing how objects help us understand the past. He highlighted how art objects provide evidence of social structure, shifts in political power, and the role of entertainment.

Wreath, 4th–3rd century BC. Greece, Crete. Gold. Museum purchase, Albert Campbell Hooper Memorial Fund. 1967.7

After a private lunch in the café, the teachers spent the afternoon working with the Museums’ Get Smart with Art Curriculum.

The first day concluded with a lesson facilitated by master teacher Fran Sheppard, comparing and contrasting the Statue of Asklepios and the Torso of a God. The lesson helped the teachers develop nuanced historical questions that went beyond the typical who, what, where, when, and why.

Left: Statue of Asklepios, 2nd century BC. Greece. Pentelic marble. Museum purchase, United Hellenic American Congress and the William H. Noble Bequest Fund. 1981.41. Right: Torso of a God, 1359–1349 BC. Egypt. Granodiorite. Museum purchase, M. H. de Young Endowment Fund. 54661

On Tuesday Mont Allen, a graduate student in the History of Art Department at UC Berkeley, explored the iconography of Roman sarcophagi in the classroom and then, moving into the galleries, he facilitated an examination of the Museums' own sarcophagus.

Allen demonstrated how, through close looking, the craftsmanship on the sarcophagus revealed that at least two different carvers must have worked on the object, which was evident when comparing and contrasting how the figures' pupils were drilled.

Season Sarcophagus (detail), 260–280 AD. Italy, Roman. Marble with traces of polychrome. Museum purchase, M. H. de Young Endowment Fund. 54662

In the afternoon, master teacher Alison Waterman examined how the Museums' Volute Krater reflected the beliefs of ancient Southern Italians. Her lesson provided the teachers with a number of reading strategies aimed at helping students critically analyze a text, a challenging task for many sixth-grade readers.

Baltimore Painter (attributed), Greek, active 4th century BC. Red-Figure Volute Krater (Wine Vessel), ca. 330 –320 BC. Italy, Apulia, South Italian. Terracotta. Museum purchase, Dorothy Spreckels Munn Fund. 2005.24a–b

Wednesday morning found the teachers listening to Jean Li, an Egyptologist and recent graduate from UC Berkeley's Department of Near Eastern Studies, who discussed how serving as a scribe was one of the only means of upward mobility in ancient Egyptian society. Working within this theme, master teacher Amy Smith Stauffer contrasted our Egyptian Wall Relief with the Satire of the Trades, providing a lesson that would give students the opportunity to interpret the past using both visual and textual primary documents.

Relief from the Tomb of Mentuemhet, ca. 660 BC. Egypt, Thebes. Limestone with polychrome. Museum purchase, M.H. de Young Memorial Museum. 51.4.2

Using our Winged Genius as an entry point, Dana DiPetro spent Thursday morning exploring the reign of Ashurnasirpal II, who commissioned the Nimrud Palace from which the Winged Genius was excavated in the 19th century.

Winged Genius, from the Northwest Palace of Ashurnasirpal II, 885–856 BC. Assyria, Nimrud. Bituminous limestone. Museum purchase, Roscoe and Margaret Oakes Income Fund and The Walter H. and Phyllis J. Shorenstein Foundation Fund. 1995.47

The week concluded with a visit by historian Erich Gruen, who spoke about themes presented in his newest book, Rethinking the Other in Antiquity. The day concluded with teachers sharing proposed lessons that incorporated a museum object, academic content, and teaching strategies presented during the institute.

At the close of the program, one teacher exclaimed that through the institute, it was “incredibly motivating to grow as a teacher with phenomenally concrete strategies.” Another stated, “I am now able to use primary sources in my class. Previously, I only imagined doing so with documentary sources, but now I feel confident about rigorously using art to illuminate the past.”

From the cohort of seventeen teachers, Steven Kirk, a sixth-grade teacher at San Francisco’s Claire Lilienthal Alternative K–8, agreed to be our focus teacher. In the coming months we will follow Steven as he conducts the lessons he conceived during our institute in his classroom, as he visits the museum with his students, and as he shares their work at the two follow-up sessions scheduled in November and May.

Be sure to check back in the fall to see how the Ancient Art Teachers Institute effects real change in our schools!