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Art as Argument: Dust Bowl to Climate Change

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Social Studies +1 Age Levels Middle School (13 to 15 years old), High School (16 to 18 years old)

How have American artists used visuals to bring attention to the pressing issues of their time? Compare and contrast a 1930s painting about the Dust Bowl with one addressing climate change made seventy years later, interpreting them in context to discover continuity and change over time. 

Possible thinking questions for students to use with one or both paintings:

  • Are these artworks primary sources? Does your answer depend on the context in which they are used?
  • What is "truthful" about these artworks? How might we use other sources to corroborate or check their truthfulness?
  • What do you think are the most effective media for making a compelling argument? Why? Student might consider speeches, photographs, newspaper op-eds, data visualizations like charts and graphs, videos/films, music, and visual art.

Resources compiled for a March 2020 National Council for History Education (NCHE) conference session.