I have vague recollections of eating my packed lunch on the stone steps of the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art after completing a scavenger hunt for facts about particular paintings deemed important by my elementary school teacher.

I more distinctly remember returning to that art museum with my mom a few years later to view the Monet’s Water Lilies: An Artist’s Obsession exhibition. I had already developed a partiality for impressionism, and Monet specifically, probably from that early field trip, and we discussed the similarities and subtle differences in each iteration of the painting. Alongside the paintings were photographs of the gardens from Monet’s time as well as modern images that immediately put this French commune on our travel bucket list.

My mom and I haven’t made it to Giverny yet, but this summer we traveled to see the Monet and Boston: Legacy Illuminated exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts. This collection featured Monet’s paintings alongside works from his predecessor Millet and contemporary Rodin, but it was the comparison to the Japanese artist Hokusai that I found most surprising – until I learned that the forced reopening of Japan to foreign trade in the nineteenth century exposed Western Europeans to Japanese style and culture which inspired many artists of the time, including Monet.

This art exhibition displayed the interconnectedness of political and economic power plays, expanding global trade networks, and cultural diffusion. And it has been by teaching my students how to analyze the content and context of paintings, maps, and other images that they have been able to put together the pieces that make up the puzzle that is world history. But I was doing to my students what my elementary school teacher did to me twenty years earlier.

I selected all of the visual sources used in my classroom and explained how students should analyze them in order to understand the past – I was making them all complete my version of the world history puzzle. But then I came across the Black Histories, Black Futures exhibition curated by local high school students who developed a theme to explore, selected the works of art to display, and wrote the labels to provide context for three galleries throughout the MFA. These students actively researched and interpreted historical information to reach their own understandings about a past that was important to them. Next year, I look forward to seeing how my students put the pieces of world history together to create their own unique puzzles … and maybe even to curate their own museum galleries!

– Sarah Bartosiak (High School Social Studies Teacher)