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A Harlem Renaissance WebQuest

written by: Pamela Martin • edited by: Jonathan Wylie • updated: 1/9/2012

Explore the art, literature, and performances of the Harlem Renaissance through the eyes of a documentary-maker. Learn about the expansion of African-American arts and the lasting impact of the cultural movement through these WebQuest lesson plans for the Harlem Renaissance.

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    Between 1910 and 1940, more than 6.5 million African-Americans moved from the rural South to the industrialized urban areas in the North. A large number settled in the Harlem neighborhood of New York City, where, during the 1920s and 1930s, changing attitudes and opportunities led to a burgeoning cultural movement known then as the New Negro Movement, or later, as the Harlem Renaissance. Art, literature, music, dance, and drama from African-American artists and writers began to reflect new themes that appealed to both black and white audiences.

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    Task

    A New York City historical group has hired your team to create a museum exhibit that will commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Harlem Renaissance. In addition to a backdrop of art, poetry, and literature examples, the team is to write, cast, direct, and film a documentary movie to feature in the exhibit. Use the sites and steps in the process to compile your information for the movie.

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    Process

    Your five-member team will need to divide the research roles and collect facts, pictures, and examples of the works produced during this cultural explosion. You will need a specialist in each of the following fields: music, literature, art, dance, and theater. Each expert should collect the following information, along with other facts or anecdotes that will make the film both informative and entertaining:

    • Who were some of the key figures in this field during the Harlem Renaissance?
    • What themes were prevalent in the works produced in this field?

    In addition, the group should work together to explore the background of the movement, so that visitors to the exhibit will understand how and why the movement began, and what it encompassed.

    Your final product will have two distinct parts. The first will be a display, made with a tri-fold presentation board. On this display, include the basic information about the Harlem Renaissance, including important names, dates, and places. You may want to use copies of art works, sheet music covers, or book reviews or covers, along with other ephemera; each one should include a caption. Your captions and text for the display should be limited to no more than 800 words (including poetry examples or novel/play excerpts).

    The second portion will be the documentary film. You have two options for this portion of the project. You may script and film a traditional movie, using a video camera and cast, or you may use a program like Photo Story 3 for Windows to create a montage-type of movie. (If you select the digital version, you must include voice-over speech, even if you add text to the pictures.) With either option, your documentary should be between 10 and 15 minutes long.

    Here are some websites to help you get started with your research:

    General

    http://www.math.buffalo.edu/~sww/circle/harlem-ren-sites.html

    http://www.jcu.edu/harlem/Literature/Page_1.htm

    Music

    http://www.timbooktu.com/spence/harlem.htm

    http://www.biography.com/blackhistory/apollo-theater/about-the-apollo.jsp

    Art

    http://www.artlex.com/ArtLex/h/harlemrenaissance.html

    http://www.huntfor.com/arthistory/C20th/harrenaiss.htm

    Literature

    http://www.timbooktu.com/spence/harlem.htm

    http://www.jcu.edu/harlem/Literature/Page_1.htm

    Dance

    http://artsedge.kennedy-center.org/exploring/harlem/faces/dancers_launch_text.html

    http://northbysouth.kenyon.edu/1998/music/dance/harlem-dance.htm

    Theater

    http://artsedge.kennedy-center.org/exploring/harlem/faces/actors_launch_text.html

    http://www.tcnj.edu/~messmer2/index.htm

    http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/255397/Harlem-Renaissance/272829/Drama

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    Evaluation

    The team should be sure that all of the arts from these lesson plans for the Harlem Renaissance are included with an equal emphasis. Visitors seeing your exhibit and documentary should walk away with a clear understanding the following:

    • What was the Harlem Renaissance?
    • What triggered this cultural movement?
    • Who were the artists, musicians, writers, dancers, and performers involved?
    • What lasting impact did the Harlem Renaissance have on the arts and on American culture and society?

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