This lesson is intended to get students to think about the memorials of former presidents in Washington, DC.
Why are certain presidents memorialized?
How can we analyze the memorials for historical & political content?
What were the goals of the memorial designers?
How might you design a memorial for a recent president?
Standards Addressed: History/Social Science:
- Students analyze the different explanations for the Great Depression and how the New Deal fundamentally changed the role of the federal government.
11.7 - Students analyze America's participation in World War II.
English Language Learner (ELL) Strategies: Use of Supplementary materials:
This lesson uses visual image analysis and short writing assignments (such as free association writing) to get buy-in from ELL students. It culminates with a creative drawing/design activity that enables students to wrestle with historical and political concepts through art.
The lesson begins with a virtual tour of the FDR memorial and a discussion of the four “rooms” that correspond to Roosevelt’s terms in office.
As students “walk” through each room of the memorial they discuss and/or write how the images and text that they see symbolize different parts of Roosevelt’s presidency? Hopefully they will be able to consider the historical significance of the Great Depression, New Deal, and World War II in shaping 20th Century American history.
I. History in Stone
Why do we make memorials to presidents?
Why do we do them in metal and stone?
How does this compare to written history?
Who gets a memorial? When do they get one?
II. FDR Memorial (Use PowerPoint)
A. Four Rooms, Four Terms, Four Freedoms (symmetry)
The design of the FDR Memorial, unlike most of the other presidential memorials on the Mall is horizontal rather than vertical. It is less a “temple” and more a “museum.” But like the neoclassical memorials to Jefferson and Lincoln, the FDR memorial has symmetry, only in this case it is a thematic symmetry that is more subtle than visual. Broken up into four rooms that roughly correspond to the Roosevelt’s four terms in office, the memorial literally walks you through the history of Roosevelt’s presidency.
Before you enter room one, there is a sculpture of Roosevelt seated in a wheel chair. (See PowerPoint image)
What tone does this set for the memorial?
(The memorial was completed in 1997.)
Why was this statue added in January 2001?
B. Room One (Depression)
Why does Room One begin with this quote from FDR’s inaugural address? - “We have nothing to fear, but fear itself.” What did Roosevelt mean by this? How does it represent his first term in office? C. Room Two (New Deal)
“I never forget that I live in a house owned by all the American people and that I have been given their trust.”- Fireside Chat (1938)
What house is Roosevelt literally talking about? How is he also speaking symbolically? “I see one-third of a nation ill-housed, ill-clad, and ill-nourished. The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we add more to the abundance of those who have too little.” - Second Inaugural (1937)
How does this compare to the famous quote from his first inaugural about fear? How do you think Roosevelt had changed since 1932? How had the country changed? How does “The Breadline” capture the Depression? How does it pull the observer into the period? (Note that many people who go to the memorial take pictures of themselves in the breadline.)
Does this natural tourist impulse trivialize memories of the depression? D. Room Three (WW II)
Most memorials are beautiful and as I said before symmetrical. Room three is in many ways the opposite of this classic style.
Write down a list of words come to mind as you “walk” into this room? (see image)
What was the goal of the designer here?
Again, how does the sculpture engage visitors? “I have seen war. I have seen war on land and sea. I have seen blood running from the wounded. I have seen the dead in the mud. I have seen cities destroyed. I have seen children starving. I have seen the agony of mothers and wives. I hate war.” - Speech (1936)
Why does the memorial include this quote from Roosevelt five years before the war? “We must be the great arsenal of Democracy.” - Fireside Chat (December 1940)
What does Roosevelt mean when he asks to make an “arsenal of Democracy”?
Don’t these two quotes contradict one another? Why include both of them?
E. Room Four (Death and Legacy)
Room four focuses on Roosevelt’s vision of the future after World War II, a future that he did not get to see, because he died before the end of the war in 1945. This room includes a carving of Roosevelt’s “Four Freedoms” that became his mantra during the war.
“Freedom of speech. Freedom of worship. Freedom from want. Freedom from fear.” - State of the Union Address (1941)
Why does Roosevelt emphasize these four freedoms and not all of the ones protected in the Bill of Rights?
How did World War II affect these freedoms in the US?
In the world?
“The structure of world peace cannot be the work of one man, or one party, or one nation. It must be a peace which rests on the cooperative effort of the whole world.” - Address to Congress (1945)
Why does Roosevelt speak in such universalist terms in 1945?
How would Roosevelt feel about the United Nations?
Why is Eleanor Roosevelt included in this section of the memorial?
(Washington Memorial and Lincoln Memorial)
How does the FDR Memorial compare to the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial? What does this say about the three presidents? What does it say about the years in which the monuments were built?
The Washington Monument (1880s)
Lincoln Memorial (1910s)
FDR Memorial (1990s)
IV. Design a Memorial
I want you to break into groups of four or five and design a memorial for one of the following: John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, or George W. Bush.
The memorial can be realistic or abstract, stone or steel.It can be no more than 40 feet tall and 400 square feet at the base.
You can place it on the water of the tidal basin or on the grassy slope of the Mall.
The memorial should represent the words or the ideas of the president.
Since most memorials are laudatory (praising), it should emphasize the President’s positive contributions to American history.