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Fitz Henry Lane Online Educational Resources

Exploring the Past through an Artist's Eyes

Lesson Plan 1C: Grades 9-12

 Fitz Henry Lane Online Lessons are designed to encourage students to make observations while looking closely at artwork and archival documents, to carry out their own investigations into the nineteenth-century world of an artist and his surroundings, and to foster critical thinking at multiple levels. Lessons were designed with a 30-45 minute timeframe in mind for observation and group discussion. Assessments were designed for completion with the teacher during additional class time or independently at home.



How can observing a painting help students understand life in America in the early 1800s?  Making observations about a painting or drawing encourages students to slow down and really look with their eyes. From close observation students can then use skills of making inferences to think critically and draw conclusions about the past.


  • Students will describe what they observe while looking at a painting by Fitz Henry Lane.
  • Students will discuss and record observations on a chart.
  • Students will analyze primary sources.
  • Students will make inferences and draw conclusions about life in a maritime port in America in the nineteenth century.
  • Students will apply and demonstrate their understanding of life in a maritime port by choosing one object in the painting and writing about its significance in America in the early 1800s.


  • Wall chart of worksheet 1
  • Copies of worksheet 1 for each student  (download here) 


Please note: it is recommended that the teacher preview the site including the paintings, interactive features and historical materials for the lesson in advance. This procedure can be used to examine most of the paintings in the catalog.

Explain to the class that in today’s lesson they will be examining a painting by Fitz Henry Lane and related primary and secondary sources from the time period. The purpose of the lesson is for them to learn as much as they can about life in nineteenth-century Gloucester. Explain that when they are done examining the painting closely, they will be choosing one vessel, landmark or building to research and write about. 

Access Fitz Henry Lane Online from your classroom computer. Find the painting Gloucester Harbor, 1852 (inv. 38) to display on the smart board or ask students to do the same using their own personal devices.

Use your cursor to zoom in and around the painting. If possible, have a student take your place to navigate based on their classmates’ directions. For 5-10 minutes, discuss the class observations out loud. Students should closely observe the painting, focus on key details and think about their personal response to the painting.

  • What do you see in this painting?
  • What do you think is happening? Why?
  • What do you wonder about?

The Visual Thinking Strategies line of questioning may also be used. What is going on in this painting? What do you see that makes you say that? What more can we learn?

Place students into small groups and distribute worksheets. Ask them to work cooperatively to record their observations, focusing on both objects from the land and harbor. Students should be encouraged to speculate about the artist, the painting and the context in which it was created. As they discuss the painting in small groups they should complete Worksheet 1. Access the interactive feature on the lower right of the screen, as well as the related Historical Materials section, to find the answers to questions. Record the answers that are found on the “I know” column on the chart. It’s likely that some of the students’ questions will not be answered on the site. Encourage students to think about other places to find the information.    


Students will conduct independent research about one characteristic of the painting that they want to learn more about. Using the completed chart as a launch pad, students will research the answer to the question: What role did this particular vessel, landmark or building play in a maritime port in America in the early 1800s? Students will write an informative text to answer the question. 


Students may contemplate the changes between nineteenth-century America and America today by comparing Gloucester then and Gloucester now. Students may continue the research of their “vessel, landmark, or building”, finding out what happened to it in the twentieth century and reporting on its status today.


National Core Arts Standards

VA: Cn11.1.4a: Through observation, infer information about time, place, and culture in which a work of art was created. 

 Common Core State Standards

CCS.W.9. – 10.2

Write informative/explanatory texts to examine and convey complex ideas, concepts, and information clearly and accurately through the effective selection, organization, and analysis of content.


Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, attending to such features as the date and origin of the information.


Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary of how key events or ideas develop over the course of the text.


Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects to answer a question (including a self-generated question) or solve a problem; narrow or broaden the inquiry when appropriate; synthesize multiple sources on the subject demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation. 

National Curriculum Standards for Social Studies

NCSS Theme II. Time, Continuity and Change

Students will ask and find answers to questions related to the past in school, community, state and regional contexts; Students will use a variety of sources to learn about the past.


Massachusetts History and Social Science Curriculum Frameworks

U.S. History I The Revolution through Reconstruction 1763 - 1877

The origins and impact of sectionalism on American life and politics. The U.S. history standards in grade 5 and the standards for U.S. history I and II address the origins, development, and importance of sectionalism in American history. The standards address the political and economic differences between the North and the South, the Civil War and its aftermath, and the continued importance of sectionalism through the twentieth century.


USI.27 Explain the importance of the Transportation Revolution of the nineteenth century (the building of canals, roads, bridges, turnpikes, steamboats, and railroads), including the stimulus it provided to the growth of a market economy. (H, E)

USI.28 Explain the emergence and impact of the textile industry in New England and industrial growth generally throughout antebellum America. (H, E)

  1. the technological improvements and inventions that contributed to industrial growth
  2. the causes and impact of the wave of immigration from Northern Europe to America in the 1840s and 1850s
  1. the rise of a business class of merchants and manufacturers
  2. the roles of women in New England textile factories

 USI.35 Describe how the different economies and cultures of the North and South contributed to the growing importance of sectional politics in the early nineteenth century. (H)



Citation: "Exploring the Past through an Artist's Eyes." Fitz Henry Lane Online. Cape Ann Museum. (accessed February 21, 2024).
Please note that the information on this and all pages is periodically reviewed and subject to change.
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