For students: We hope this two-page guide will help sharpen your reading skills and deepen your understanding of this issue’s articles.
For teachers: We encourage reproduction and adaptation of these ideas, freely and without further permission from Saudi Aramco World, by teachers at any level, whether working in a classroom or through home study.
— THE EDITORS
Analyzing Visual Images
How would you illustrate a story about a museum? That’s what photographer Eric Seals—and Saudi Aramco World’s editors—had to decide. Read “Telling Our Own Story,” and look at the photos that accompany it. Make a list of the photos with a short description of each. For example, you could describe the photos on page 3 this way: 1. A man stands in front of an exhibit, talking to two children. 2. A crowd watches the ribbon-cutting ceremony. When you’re done, look over your list. What patterns do you see? For example, are there many crowd shots? Are there many images of exhibits? You should be able to identify at least five themes that appear in the photos.* Why do you think the photographer and editors chose so many different styles of photographs?
Let’s look at other choices photographers make. Photography is visual. You experience it by looking. How, then, does a photographer convey to viewers that the places he photographs are filled with sounds, smells and tactile experiences? Eric Seals does it, in part, by showing people touching things. How many of the photos in “Telling Our Own Story” show people’s hands? Consider the photos of museum visitors on pages 8 and 9. What are they doing with their hands? What do you imagine they’re feeling? Contrast these photos with the photo at the bottom of page 5. What do you imagine the woman on page 5 is experiencing? Why do you think the photographer did not include the hands of the woman on page 5? Contrast two more photos—the portrait of Anan Ameri on page 5 and the museum visitors on page 8. How does showing one woman’s hands as unmoving and the others’ as busy affect your sense of each photo and each woman?
*Five themes include the museum building; exhibits; visitors; people who work at the museum; and crowds on opening day.
The activities in this section are designed to engage students with the material in Saudi Aramco World while encouraging them to connect it to the larger themes they explore in their other studies. This month’s activities revolve around one basic concept: Presentation.
Theme: Presentation Actors put a lot of thought into how they will appear to their audience. They attend to their clothing, makeup, facial expressions and posture. To portray characters, they also decide how they will speak —loudly or softly, slowly or quickly, gently or angrily and so on.
In a way, we’re all like actors on a stage. The activities that follow ask you to think self-consciously about presentations—your own, other individuals’ and groups’—just as actors think about how they present themselves.
How do you present yourself in the world?
Every day, as you go about your business, you show yourself to others. Some days you probably pay a lot of attention to how you look and behave, to the image you present. Other days you may not think about it at all. But even on days when you’re not thinking about it, you are still presenting yourself to others, and they are seeing you and interpreting what they see.
Pay close attention to your presentation for a whole day, taking notes as you go along. Start when you get up in the morning. Ask yourself, “How do I want to present myself today?” Write down the things you consider. For example, do you think about whether or not to shower; what clothes you’ll wear; whether you want to look playful, intelligent, serious? Do you check yourself out in the mirror before you leave home? If so, what are you looking for?
Continue as the day goes on. Think about and write down what you say and do—and what you don’t! Do you ask questions in class? Gossip? Crack jokes? Fall asleep? How do you present yourself to your parents? Are there some things you tell them, and other things you don’t?
At the end of the day, write about yourself the way a playwright describes a character in the stage directions. Start with something like this: “He dresses in a navy blue suit, white button-down shirt and pink paisley bow tie, despite the fact that he is only 16. He feels he is more serious than his peers….”
How do others see you?
You choose to present yourself in specific ways, in part to give others some information about you. But no matter how much thought you put into your presentation, you can’t ever have complete control over how others interpret what they see when they look at you. Make a two-column chart. In the left-hand column, write down different aspects of your appearance—e.g., how you wear your hair, what clothes you wear, what your posture is like, etc. In the right-hand column, write down how different people might interpret that part of your presentation. For example, if you carry a knapsack, does it (or the brand of it, or its type, etc.) imply to your peers that you’re a nerd, tell your teachers that you’re studious, or inform your parents that you don’t want to look the way they do? (Or maybe all three?) Write a journal entry about the possible differences between how you present yourself and how others may see you.
How do groups present themselves? How do others see them?
You can analyze groups’ self-presentations the same way you analyzed your own. Read “Telling Our Own Story” and “Oman’s Oasis on the National Mall.” The individuals in both articles have thought a lot about how they want to present themselves and their people to the larger public.
Because they were planning a museum with exhibits, the founders of the Arab American National Museum thought about and discussed how they would present their subjects. Their first decision was to tell the story of Arab–Americans by telling the stories of individuals. Some were just “regular people.” Others had become famous. It’s easy to see why exhibits would focus on people who have made public contributions to American life. But why would the museum’s curators present people who worked in factories and on farms? What would presenting those “regular people” say to the museum’s visitors about who Arab–Americans are, and how they wish to be seen?
The Omani people at the Folk Festival had a slightly different emphasis. They wanted to change how others thought of them. What misconceptions were they trying to correct? How did they present themselves to make the corrections? List two examples of misconceptions and the Omani attempts to change them. How successful do you think they were?
Does someone have a wrong idea about you? How did they get that idea? How would you change their thinking? What would you tell them? What would you show them? How would you behave around them?
What is the difference between a group presenting itself to the world, and the group being presented to the world by someone else?
The title “Telling Their Own Story” suggests how important it is for Arab–Americans to present themselves to the world, rather than letting someone else portray them. Why might that be true? To begin to answer the question, think back to how you present yourself. Now imagine that someone—and to make the point, let’s say someone who doesn’t like you very much—were to “present” you by talking about you to others behind your back. How would you feel knowing that people were getting a sense of who you are based on what this unsympathetic person said?
Now ask the same questions about a group. What stereotypes might the Arab American National Museum be trying to counter? How are they doing so?
What role do the arts play in a group’s self-presentation?
The arts also play a role in how a group presents itself. You’ve probably studied some work of art in its historical context. How, for example, does a Shakespearean play express the concerns of 16th-century Britons? Or how does Picasso’s “Guernica” express Spaniards’ shattered sense of themselves during their civil war?
“Oman’s Oasis on the National Mall” makes several bold statements about how arts and crafts present a people to the world. Here’s one of them: “Crafts are the visual representation of a nation, its people and its past.” What does that mean? How true is it? Think about a popular craft and what it says about its creators. For example, what do quilts reveal about the Americans who made them? Folk music? Write the quote at the top of a piece of paper. Write your thoughts about it for five minutes. Don’t think too hard about it. Just write down whatever comes to mind. Use your writing as the basis for a class discussion about the quotation.
||Julie Weiss is an education consultant based in Lowell, Massachusetts. She holds a Ph.D. in American studies. Her company, Unlimited Horizons, develops social studies, media literacy and English as a Second Language curricula, and produces textbook materials.