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The Architecture of Rosalie: Can Houses Talk?

OVERVIEW

If our houses could talk, what stories would they tell? Students will rarely think of the homes in which they live, or even older homes in the state, as history teachers. As students study the Rosalie mansion in Natchez, they will become acquainted with the discipline of architecture and will realize all that can be learned from a building.

CURRICULAR CONNECTIONS

Mississippi Studies Framework: Competencies 1, 3, and 5.

TEACHING LEVELS

Grades 4 (with modifications) through 12.

MATERIALS AND EQUIPMENT

Mississippi History Now article

Paper bags; boxes

Markers

OBJECTIVES

The students will:

define vocabulary terms associated with the study of architecture.

relate the distinctive elements of the Early Classical Revival architectural style used to construct Rosalie mansion.

identify connections between architecture and culture.

OPENING THE LESSON

Write this quote by long-time chief of the Fine Arts Division of the Library of Congress, Leicester B. Holland, on the board or overhead for students to read. In his forward to the book White Pillars, a study of the early life and architecture of the Lower Mississippi Valley Country, he wrote, “No one else could have built these houses, nor could they have been built anywhere else.” Ask students to seriously reflect on this statement and write why they think someone would make such a comment. Furthermore, if possible, show slides or pictures of buildings in the local area and have students discuss what they know about each one: their origin, their purpose or use, the construction materials, date, etc. Challenge students to think of buildings, especially houses, as being able to talk and tell their “stories.”

DEVELOPING THE LESSON

1.

The meaning of several architectural terms is crucial to the student understanding of this lesson. They need to know a definition of each of these: architecture; façade; elliptical; symmetrical; pediment; dentil moldings; balustrade. (Teacher may wish to add others.) The teacher could schedule a speaker from the local historic preservation group or from the Chamber of Commerce, or the school’s art teacher, to speak to the class about these terms and to show pictures. Ask students to make sketches in their notes to illustrate each term. When the lesson is over, ask students to write definitions using their sketches as a guide. The definitions should be turned in for evaluation. Ask students to try and find examples of these architectural elements in their town/community or on television as a homework assignment.

2.

Ask students to read the Mississippi History Now article on Rosalie and to determine the architectural style of the mansion. As they read, they will complete a web or bubble chart listing the distinctive features of the style. Using pictures from books or the web, have students recognize these features on Rosalie and on other buildings with the same style.

3.

Give students a chance to report on their homework assignment and to compare their findings with pictures of Rosalie.

4.

Ask students to read the article again and to draw a picture of the floor plan of the mansion. Each student will share his drawing with a partner and they will compare information. Ask them to compare/contrast the layout of Rosalie with houses of today. Ask them to speculate about the differences.

5.

Teacher will lead a discussion regarding the kinds of information a “house” can relate. Using a handout, ask students to respond to the following questions:

a.

What materials were available for construction purposes?

b.

What types of technology were used?

c.

Who were the builders?

d.

Why was this house built in this particular style?

e.

Did the climate affect the architecture?

f.

Does the architecture reflect anything about the economy?

g.

Other than eating and sleeping, were there other uses for the large “public” rooms? (Where were parties and social get-togethers held in this time period as opposed to where they are held today?)

h.

Is the background/origin of the settlers reflected in the architecture?

6.

Give students the opportunity to check and clarify their answers in small groups. Then, teacher will lead a large group discussion of the questions. For an assignment, ask students to write a short paper about what a “researcher” could determine about them by using their houses as a guide. As an optional assignment, ask students to write about their “dream” house and to explain what it would tell about them.

2.

Ask students to compose a short essay reflecting on the question: “can houses talk?” Remind them of the quote by Leicester B. Holland at the beginning of the lesson. Ask them to respond briefly to his opinion.

 

CLOSING THE LESSON

As a final activity, divide the students into groups and assign them a particular part of the Rosalie “story:” its architectural style; its layout; how it has been used; the history of the Littles; the furnishings, how the house is used today,etc. Have each group research their topic and develop a set of questions to be used to “interview” the house. Each group will design a representation of the exterior of Rosalie, using large brown bags or boxes. A team member will “man” the house, as other teammates ask questions. After each presentation, the teacher will ask questions of the group to determine mastery. Students will write short paragraphs in their notes to indicate what they learned from each presentation. These will be turned in for a grade.

ASSESSING STUDENT LEARNING

1.

List of definitions

2.

Completed web

3.

Class participation in discussion

4.

Floor plan drawing

5.

Responses to lesson questions

6.

Short paper connecting architecture and culture

7.

Group participation; presentation

8.

Final essay

EXTENDING THE LESSON

1.

Students may be interested in preparing a tourist brochure or writing a song or poem about Rosalie.

2.

Take a field trip to Rosalie with a guide for students to complete.

3.

Research the story of the Little family who built the mansion.

4.

Write a play regarding the construction of Rosalie.

5.

If classical revival/federal period houses are part of the local community, students could conduct interviews, collect architectural details, and write a description/history for the community library.

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES

1.

Cooper, J. Wesley. Ante Bellum Houses of Natchez, Southern Historical Publications, Inc., Natchez, Mississippi, 1970.

2.

Smith, J. Frazer Smith. White Pillars, Bramhall House, New York, 1941.

(Both books contain pictures and floor plans of Rosalie and other antebellum houses.)

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