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Exploring History through Artistic Expression

Students in Dr. Zitani’s Social and Cultural History of the American 20th Century course presented touching artistic reflections of spoken word, drawings, and songs based on their research of race, class, and gender during events throughout American history. Their impressive original works showcased the depth of their understanding of difficult times, offering a glimpse at the impact of these events on people and culture.
Dr. Zitani’s intention with this innovative project was to encourage students to use art as a way to engage more deeply with history. The topics were chosen by students and they collaborated with each other throughout the process on what they were independently researching, broadening all students’ understanding of each topic.

At the Coffeehouse presentation, each student offered a brief synopsis of the event they were covering, and then presented and explained their artistic reflection. Attendees asked follow-up questions to gain further insight on these historic events. Students presented with passion about the Flint Water Crisis, The Great Depression, Native American Boarding Schools, and more. Their reflections showcased a thorough understanding using various media, including a cartoon depiction of the repercussions of the healthcare crisis; a song composed about the process a woman would have gone through during the East St. Louis Race Riots; and poems about the March on Selma, The Atlanta Washer Woman's Strike, and Gentrification in Little Haiti. The final pieces demonstrated that the students gained empathy for the individuals whose stories they portrayed. They found themselves seeking the authentic voices, and striving to make those voices speak through their art.

Afterwards, students reflected that the project gave them a deeper understanding of the topics. The unique project’s approach humanized the events, offering students a connection to the impact on many lives. Students expressed that although the project was outside their comfort zones, it allowed them to connect in a new way and they appreciated that the assessment went well beyond a regurgitation of facts.
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