Demonstration of Contextualizing Material on the Web

A standard metaphor for contextualization is a spider web: the subject matter is in the middle of the web and context is spun around it as far as is necessary. Another metaphor might be that of a pie. The artifact or art work is placed in the center of the pie, and all slices point to it or away from it, depending on your perspective. Either way, in this metaphor all pieces act as part of the same pie, even if each has a different flavor. For this demonstration, imagine that a museum of American history has on exhibit a print by Currier and Ives, “Across the Continent: ‘Westward the Course of Empire Takes Its Way’” from 1868. Selecting this one item to use as the main filling for our “pie,” we can build a multiplistic understanding of America during the era the print was created. A project such as this could be on the museum’s website for pre-educating and post-educating the viewer and could be much more comprehensive than the model here. Another version of the “pie” might investigate issues of interpretation, for example, or examine how and why Americans in 1868 looked at the print in a way that differs from someone viewing it in 1908 or 1998.
Compare to other art from 1868. Currier and Ives: Who are they? The West in the late 1800s. Native Americans in the late 1800s. The transcontinental railroad. Putting the print in the context of history. Sources of inspiration. What to look for in this specific print. How to look at a work of art.
Move your cursor over each slice of “pie” to see a rollover of related images and text below.
A train heads west, between a village on the left and Native Americans on the right.