Teaching Guide: Exploring the Hudson River School

This teaching guide helps instructors use a specific primary source set, The Hudson River School, in the classroom. It offers discussion questions, classroom activities, and primary source analysis tools. It is intended to spark pedagogical creativity by giving a sample approach to the material. Please feel free to share, reuse, and adapt the resources in this guide for your teaching purposes.

Discussion questions

  1. Using the sources in this set, characterize the primary themes and subjects of Hudson River school painters. What did these artists paint? What ideas were they exploring?
  2. The Hudson River school artists lived and worked in the first half of the nineteenth century. What connections do you see between the concerns of their art and other ideas of the moment? Specifically consider America’s westward expansion and manifest destiny, as well as romanticism in American literature.
  3. Examine Thomas Cole’s landscape painting. How does this piece explore the Hudson River school’s trademark idea of the pastoral?
  4. Explore the many landscape pieces in this set. What does the landscape represent? How does its meaning change between paintings?
  5. Using the 2009 poster as a jumping off point, discuss how the Hudson River school impacted Americans’ relationships to land and nature.

Classroom activities

Split students into groups of two. Ask each group to select two pieces of art from the set that express one of these three Hudson River school themes: exploration, discovery, and settlement. Ask each pair to plan a five-minute presentation in which they show the two pieces they’ve selected, comparing and contrasting how these two pieces approach the selected theme.

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