The Titanic

Since her maiden voyage and tragic sinking in 1912, the story of the Titanic has fascinated people all over the world. Of course, part of the allure is the 1997 blockbuster movie and relentless airplay of the accompanying theme song. Beyond that, however, there are so many interesting things to consider when studying the Titanic. The advancements in engineering required at the time to build such a ship were astonishing. Equally astonishing was the choice to trust that engineering so completely that the decision was made to skimp on lifeboats.

Learning about the Titanic’s passengers also presents a view of the different social classes of the time, and it is interesting to learn just how much (and how little) has changed since then, when it comes to the life experiences associated with different levels of wealth and position.

The poster for this month’s History’s ARTfacts installment focuses on the remarkable technology that led to the discovery of the Titanic wreckage by Robert Ballard in 1985. The science of oceanography and the exploration of the world’s oceans are also compelling fields of study for students to consider. Overall, the Titanic’s story offers many unique opportunities for activities and discussion.

Thank you for being a part of the Professional Educators Network. We hope you enjoy this new installment of History’s ARTifacts. Please watch the educational video with your students, download the poster by this month’s artist, Ben Yang, and watch Ben’s Meet the Artist video.


Meet the Artist: Ben Yang


Activities for The Titanic

Some of the richest and most influential people in the world were aboard the Titanic when it sunk. Some survived, while others did not. These passengers included John Jacob Astor, Margaret Brown, Noel Leslie, Isidor and Ida Straus, Benjamin Guggenheim and many more. Have your students research these passengers and others to help paint a picture of the diverse people whose lives were affected on that fateful night.
The Titanic had some of the newest technology at the time it was built. One such technology was a wireless communication device. It could send and receive wireless messages using Morse Code. Morse Code was also utilized by sending light flashes from the Titanic to any ship in the area. There are many different codes that people have used throughout history to send messages. Have your students explore simple substitution codes, the pig pen cypher and other ways to encode information in order to send it covertly.
The Titanic struck an iceberg – that much is known. But why didn’t the crewmen aboard the Titanic see the iceberg until it was too late? One theory has to do with how light is refracted through cold air versus warm air. Super refraction is a phenomenon that takes place when warm and cold air masses combine to create unique optical effects. It is thought that on the night the Titanic hit the iceberg, these special conditions were in place. The result may have been that the crewmen could not see the iceberg until it was much too late. Have your students explore the physics of light refraction.
Telling the fictional account of a girl who claims to have lived a previous life aboard the Titanic, Ghosts I Have Been by Richard Peck is a mysterious coming-of-age tale. It follows an outspoken troublemaker named Blossom Culp, who claims that she can see “the Unseen.” It turns out Blossom does actually have second sight as she discovers she is on board the Titanic as it sinks! Read with your class and discuss what Blossom’s experience (and that of others aboard the Titanic) might have been like.
This month’s poster by artist Benjamin Yang was “painted” in Photoshop. Students can do some research to learn more about digital art, and even introduce themselves to Photoshop, if resources are available. Because the Titanic is such a specific subject, it might be of interest to let students immerse themselves in maritime art by checking out work from the Dutch Golden Age, when maritime art became its own genre. For fun, they can compare and contrast these classic works with the Paint-by-Number craze of the 1960s and 1970s, in which seascape paintings were all the rage. A broader subject area would be famous works depicting actual historical events. Have students create their own historical art pieces, finding inspiration in the historical periods that they are currently studying.

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