Tag Archives: Humanities

Mythology is Everywhere: 5 Ways to Utilize Myths for Teaching & Learning

Words like alma mater, atlas, labyrinth, lunatic  and narcissistic derive from mythology. References to mythology are apparent in many movies and books from Star Wars to Harry Potter and even Percy Jackson.  The mythic hero is not only a Western or popular culture phenomena. Heroes from the Ancient Near East include Gilgamesh, Hippopotamus from the Middle Kingdom in Ancient Egypt. Classical mythological heroes include Achilles, Apollo, Athena, Hercules, and Prometheus. King Arthur and his Knights are considered heroes of the Middle Ages. Every country and region has their own heroes. In fact, mythological themes are timeless.

Hero in mythology is a person who is endowed with great courage and strength, celebrated for bold exploits, and favored by the gods. A hero is also one noted for feats of courage or nobility of purpose, especially one who has risked or sacrificed his or her life.

What do you think makes a hero, a “hero”? What qualities do we tend to look for in this person? Should heroes be strong, courageous, selfless and charismatic? Could someone still be considered “heroic” without these qualities?  Who are some of your “real life” heroes and how do they stack up against the heroes presented to us by Hollywood and or classic mythology? And what about the Antagonist – can the “bad guy” also be the hero, and if so, why?

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Joseph Campbell’s The Hero’s Journey

The topic of mythology and heroes can be brought into the humanities classroom in different ways that allow students to critically read and reflect on this genre. Here are five different literacy assignments that showcase mythology.

  1. Create a Heroic Myth – After reading and examining the hero’s journey across texts, students create their own futuristic hero/heroine whose story addresses a global issue. Students write a short story describing this new hero/heroine. The story should include at least one intervention of the hero/heroine dealing with a major global use he or she was developed to counteract. The hero/heroine can be comprised of the following four components: part human, part animal, part machine, part supernatural. Additionally, students can create a superhero picture depicting the hero in action; fighting against the force the hero was created to fight.
  2. Mythology Collage Box – Students create collages or collage boxes along the lines of Joseph Cornell’s work that includes personal adaptations of mythological subjects. In preparation for their work, students would need to become familiar with Greco-Roman myths and examine how artists throughout history have been inspired by mythology. The collage will represent an event or a character from mythology or can even depict an abstract idea (for example: jealousy, ambition, war, music, love).
  3. Dramatize the Story – Become one of your favorite mythological paintings or sculpture. Speak in its voice, or the voice of one of its characters or objects. What does it feel like to be that person or object? Speak in first person and describe the experience, feelings, and character.
  4. Critical Analysis of Mythology Represented in Art – Students examine paintings, sculpture, poetry, and art that represents mythology. Ask students to think, discuss, and write about why has the artist chosen to paint this part of the myth? How is color used in the painting? What symbols or allegory are presented in the art work? How has mythology been appropriated and inflected with new meaning?
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Antoine Watteau (1684-1721) Ceres c. 1715

5. Deconstructing Mythology in Popular Films – With movies like Thor, Pan’s Labyrinth, and Wonder Woman, mythology is alive in popular films today. Have students view the films and categorize the mythology references in each or one of the movies. Students can present an analysis how the film pulls from different mythological sources and evaluate the accuracy of the mythological references.

For example, thinking of Diana and Wonder Woman. In previous myths, the Amazons were a fierce tribe of warrior women; they scorned men, except once a year when they would seek out men from neighboring tribes in order to procreate. Any male children that resulted from these unions were either murdered or sent to live with their fathers. In some myths, Amazons would cut off one of their breasts so that they could better shoot their bow and arrow. Their brutal and uncompromising toughness frames Wonder Woman in a different light than how she is often portrayed, and how this influence is utilized makes for an exciting film.

 

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Hidden History

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In the Author’s Note of Ruta Sepetys’ Salt to the Sea she writes,

Every nation has hidden history, countless stories preserved only by those who experienced them. Stories of war are often read and discussed worldwide by readers whose nations stood on opposite sides during battle. History divided us, but through reading we can be united in story, study, and remembrance. Books join us together as a global reading community, but more important, a global human community striving to learn from the past.

What determines how we remember history and which elements are preserved and penetrate the collective consciousness? If historical novels stir your interest, pursue the facts, history, memoirs, and personal testimonies available. There are the shoulders that historical fiction sits upon. When the survivors are gone we must not let the truth disappear with them.

Please give them a voice.

Sepetys’ work of historical fiction is a collection of vignettes told in alternating voices of young adults who are refugees trying to escape their war torn countries during World War II and hoping to board the Wilhelm Gustloff, a ship that will take them to safety. Caught between Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia’s Red Army, many of these young people left their homes and families behind on a quest for freedom and safety.

During World War II the Wilhelm Gustloff was carrying more than 10,000 refugees, five thousand who were children,  when on January 30th, 1945, a Soviet submarine torpedoed the ship, sinking with majority of the passengers on board. That is more than the lives lost on the Titanic and the Lusitania, and yet I did not know any of this until I read Sepetys’ book. In fact, she writes that “in the year 1945 alone, over 25,000 people lost their lives in the Baltic Sea due to ships being bombed and sunk.”

I want to hone in on the idea of “Hidden History.” What is the history that gets told and taught in our schools. This concept sparked two different projects for a history/humanities class.

Hidden History Project –  Students research and uncover a piece of “hidden history.” Students can write about or create a video about some aspect of history that has been lost (like a piece of art or artifact), uncover a mystery, or share the story of a survivor or witness.

For example, National Geographic’s video on the mysterious Amber Room, considered the Eighth Wonder of the World, was lost during WWII when it was looted by the Nazis. The Amber Room, a world-famous chamber decorated in amber panels backed with gold leaf and mirrors, originally constructed in the 18th century in Prussia.

Historical Testimonies – When I taught a middle school drama class I asked students to interview a family member one or two generations older than the students and then turn the interview into a monologue to present to the whole class. This assignment has two parts. First students select a family member to interview and brainstorm a list of questions to ask the person about an important time in their life — See the Great Questions from StoryCorps. The second part of the assignment would be for students to read through and edit the interview responses to create a monologue that tells a memory moment of this particular family member. Students can dress up and bring in an artifact of the person when presenting the monologue.

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