Grant will help art students picture the Holocaust

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BRUNSWICK — Two years ago, Natasha Goldman saw a photo that she said chilled her “to the bone.”

The photo was from a National Policy Institute conference in Washington, D.C., and showed attendees giving the Nazi salute during a speech by the group’s president.

Goldman, a research associate and adjunct lecturer in art history at Bowdoin College, said seeing the picture made her want to do something.

“I said to myself, ‘What can I do with what I know to run interference?’” she said.

She ultimately decided to go into classrooms at Brunswick Junior High and Gardiner Area High School to teach sessions on Holocaust history and art.

Now, thanks to a $90,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, Goldman and another Bowdoin faculty member, Associate Professor of History Page Herrlinger, will be able to relay the knowledge to a much wider audience.

Next summer, the college will use the grant funding to host a two-week seminar for middle school and high school teachers from across the U.S., aimed at teaching the instructors how to use art to enrich their lessons about the Holocaust.

The workshop, titled “Teaching the Holocaust through Visual Culture,” will be led by Herrlinger and Goldman.

“It’s very exciting, we feel very lucky too because it’s a very competitive application process, but I think that the process actually challenged us … to think how best to do this,” Herrlinger said. “We put a lot in it up front and got more and more excited about the possibilities.”

The seminar can host up to 16 teachers from around the country and will emphasize using art, especially art made by victims of the Holocaust, as a way of teaching students about that period in history.

Goldman said she is excited to bring the humanities “outside of Bowdoin,” and into the general public, which is one of the goals of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

She added the seminar will give teachers tools to teach about the Holocaust “in a way that they haven’t done before,” not only by analyzing works of fine art such as paintings and sculpture, but also through using other cultural materials such as flags, uniforms and posters.

Humanities is different than other academic fields, such as the social or “hard” sciences, she said, and getting people in those fields to learn from a humanities angle can be enriching.

“We’re looking at objects that human beings made,” Goldman said. “Once you start to understand how humanities thinkers approach the world, it impacts all those other fields as well. So things like ethics, empathy (and) understanding different cultures, being able to stand in the shoes of other people, these are things that the humanities are really committed to.”

The seminar will also feature guest speakers from other parts of the country. Attendees will need to apply to attend; a national call will be sent out.

Most of the grant money will go towards paying for teachers’ and guest speakers’ flights, food, hotel accommodations and stipends for the two weeks they are in Maine.

Goldman said after she heard about the grant opportunity, she contacted Herrlinger because she knew of Herrlinger’s experience teaching history, which Goldman called “immensely important.”

Goldman said using photos while teaching history can be especially helpful because the subject can be “a little dry” and difficult for junior high and high school students to work through.

Learning through photos, however, can be empowering for them because they “already have the answers by looking” at the picture.

Herrlinger echoed that sentiment and said often when students are new to a topic, they feel more comfortable discussing a photo related to it than with “any written text that’s outside their comfort zone.”

She also said teachers need to think about the photos they are showing to students from the Holocaust, as many are problematic because they are “graphic and de-humanizing” for the victims.

“There are a lot of images that were taken by Nazis and they are part of their own attempt to assert authority visually and so it’s important to have those kinds of conversations,” she said. “We have to think about (when) we show images in a classroom what that impact might be, but also to think about the origin of that image and what the intention was.”

Ultimately, Herrlinger said she and Goldman hope the impact of the seminar will be felt by more than just the teachers who attend.

“We really hope that they’re going to keep sharing what they learn in the seminar with other people,” she said. “And go back and become kind of ambassadors about how to do this kind of learning.”

Elizabeth Clemente can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or eclemente@theforecaster.net. Follow Elizabeth on Twitter @epclemente.

Bowdoin Research Associate and Adjunct Lecturer of Art History Natasha Goldman, left, and Page Herrlinger, associate professor of history, will lead a seminar for teachers across the U.S. next summer about using art to enrich Holocaust lessons.

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