Students in ninth grade study ancient history, and it can be a challenge to grasp the spans of time involved and the vitality of ancient cultures. An important way of getting a glimpse of the power of ancient civilizations is by experiencing their art. We are lucky that Boston's Museum of Fine Arts has a major collection of ancient art, so it has become a tradition for the freshman class trip to center around an exploration of its exhibits.
On Monday, the ninth-graders headed to Boston for their class trip. Their first stop was the Museum of Fine Arts, where they spent several hours in the Ancient Wing. Here, they explored the splendid Ancient Egyptian, Roman, and Greek sculptures, pottery, frescoes, mummies, and jewelry. They also went through the European Renaissance Art gallery and the Asian wing. For many of the students, the art connected to their history projects, and they were busy snapping photos, taking notes and making sketches of the relevant artifacts. Students were assigned to find an artifact to use as primary source proof in their papers. They also had questions to answer which ensured that they would view the exhibits carefully and review major aspects of the curriculum from the year. Spanish painting was a focus for those students studying Spanish as well.
Students made many interesting comments and connections. One important question was raised by Charley Neisner, who asked why the art which forms the cultural legacy of distant countries was here in the U.S. Had it been looted? Should it be returned? Many students were impressed with these questions and joined the discussion. Students noted the beauty of the Egyptian coffins, the fineness of gold work from Mesopotamia, the presence of artifacts depicting goddesses, and the surprising depictions on Greek urns. Many were struck by the Buddhist images from India and China, and the particular forms of ancient Chinese ritual vessels.
After their time at the MFA, the group went to Faneuil Hall, where they stopped at the haunting outdoor Holocaust Memorial. The memorial is composed of six plexiglass towers, one for each of the major death camps, and they are inscribed with the tattoo numbers of prisoners. Each tower stands above a grate through which steam emanates in an eerie reminder of the gas chambers. Quotes by prisoners and American troops are inscribed along the pathway, and memorial stones are provided so that participants in the memorial can emulate Jewish tradition of placing a rock upon a grave in remembrance of the departed. Many students commented on how deeply the Memorial moved and disturbed them. After Martin Rumscheidt's visit, the memorial had a particular significance to all of us.
Before heading back to campus, the students had free time to wander around Quincy Market, eat and shop. All in all, it was a busy and fun trip that provided the class new opportunities to learn and bond.