Possible Classroom Concepts: Social Studies – History ( Middle Ages), Cultures Around The World (European, Asian)
Language Arts – Literature, Reading For Information, Symbols, Poetry (Haiku)
Science – Animals
Possible Art Concepts: Art History – Albrecht Durer, John James Audubon, Paolo Ucello, The Bayeux Tapestry
Symbols, Craftsmen, Chinese Brush Painting, Stitchery
I knew, from my teaching days, that Eastern and Western cultures viewed dragons very differently. I’ve talked about it here. However, in a recent visit to the Frist Center for the Arts’ “Samurai, The Way of the Warrior” exhibit, I discovered that Eastern and Western cultures also had very different ways of organizing feudalism. I’m sure middle school social studies teachers already know this because I’ve seen many units on just this subject online. For those newcomers like me, a feudal community is made up of peasants, warriors and a lord. Eastern and Western cultures are set up pretty similarly in this respect. You can read more about their setups here. The differences come with the kinds of weapons used by the warriors and the armor they wore as a result. Due to large heavy swords and lances, the Western armor was made of heavy clunky metal. The Eastern Culture’s weapons changed over the years. The samurai were horsemen and first used long spears, then bows and arrows and finally the two swords they are famous for today. To aid mobility on the horse, the Eastern weapons were not as heavy and bulky. Also, the armor was made of lighter material and was very flexible. This occurred well before the industrial revolution, so the weapons and armor were made by craftsmen. The higher the rank of the soldier the more elaborate the weapons and armor. What I found most interesting about the armor was the symbolism used to decorate these uniforms. In Western culture the symbolism was on the armor itself while the samurai had symbolism on their helmets. You could use the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s “Fierce or Fancy?, Discover the Art of Arms and Armor” Family Guide for an I Spy symbols activity. This activity could be used to extend a literature lesson or be part of a social studies lesson about different cultures. For a closer look at the I Spy items look here and here .
Albrecht Durer’s “Rhinoceros” John James Audubon’s “Armadillo”
The Met also provides a lesson plan which combines symbolism and science (armored animals) found here. A great side story, Durer had never seen a real rhinoceros, only drawings by another artist, when he created the above block print.
Think about the mass produced uniforms of today. Our soldiers basically wear symbols on their dress uniforms, not so much on battle uniforms. Symbols on dress uniforms show their rank, accomplishments and their branch of service . Sports uniforms and helmets/hats contain symbols representing mascots and company logos.
Speaking of sports, Western culture knights participated in tournaments/jousting during peacetime. In a samurai’s free time, he/she (Yes, there were women samurai!) was expected to engage in educational and art related pursuits. Some of these being haiku, rock gardens, flower arranging, Chinese brush painting, calligraphy and tea ceremonies. Most samurai were well educated in a time when most Europeans could not read.
There aren’t too many books about knights and samurai for elementary aged students. If you’d like some for storytime, I did find a few that looked interesting. In my teaching days, I used Saint George and the Dragon by Margaret Hodges. I love the illustrations. Another one for knights that looked interesting was The Princess Knight by Cornelia Funke. For Samurai, you might look into these two folk tales, Three Samurai Cats by Eric A. Kimmel and The Smallest Samurai by Fiona French. Look here to see the story of the smallest samurai told by a storyteller. The book that I found the most intriguing was a book entitled, Picture That — Knights and Castles by Alex Martin. What makes this so great is that feudal times facts are pointed out in artworks that were created in that time period. Important areas of these works are magnified with notations of important facts. Two great works featured in this book show knights. The Battle of San Romano by Paolo Ucello shows the knights and horses of the time. Although it shows a battle, no blood is shown. The Bayeux Tapestry is also featured. It should be noted that this is not a tapestry at all but a stitchery, a very long stitchery. It illustrates the the story of the Battle of Hastings and is thought by some to be the very first comic strip. Find an animated version of stitchery here. (Violence Alert! I would stop it right as the battle begins, if you wish to avoid the violence.) The tapestry shows how people dressed and their way of life. To commemorate the 950th anniversary of the Bayeux Tapestry, illustrator Liz Pichon created a British history sequel . Your class could create a comic strip style mural of their own illustrating the Revolutionary War, the history of your state or any other time in history you happen to be studying.
While teaching fairy tale illustration or making Japanese figure sculptures, there were always those few boys who wanted to add a sword to their work. These boys may be the future soldiers who serve so we can be free. If you wish to spark their interest in your subject area, interject a few of the facts from this post. They will love you for it.
Have you taught knights or samurai? If you have, I’d love to hear about it. Simply click on the title of this post and scroll down to the comment section.
Hope to see you again real soon!