• Matt Berrigan

Lapis Lazuli and the Dawn of the Renaissance

Hello families! We are so excited to introduce you to our first curriculum newsletter of the 2015-16 school year. Every month we will be sharing with you some of the fantastic adventures in learning that we will be embarking upon. We begin the year by looking at the formation of Western worldview, focusing on the Renaissance period. Throughout most of September we will be looking at the origins of the Renaissance. We will look at the way a confluence of circumstances including contact with Asian culture, the ravages of the Black Plague and the growth of cities helped create a new age in world history.

Lapis Lazuli

Deep within the northeastern corner of Afghanistan, near the modern day borders of Tajikistan, Pakistan and China lies the Kokcha River Valley, home to the key to the Renaissance period. In this valley lies a 6000 year old mine in the heart of the Silk Road trading route, mining a rare and heavily desired commodity that many Europeans dedicated their lives toward… the colour blue.

Blue gained prominence in European art throughout the Middle Ages. As Agatha Christie’s detective Hercule Poirot exclaimed, it was “Sacre Bleu,” or “Sacred Blue.” Sacre Bleu was the only colour acceptable to paint the cloak of the Virgin Mary.

Blue had existed outside of Afghanistan, of course, but not like this. There, in the Sar-e-Sang mine could be found the deep blue semi-precious stone, lapis lazuli. Grinding lapis lazuli by hand was more difficult than any other contemporary stone, but what it yielded was more valuable than gold… the colour of ultramarine… the deepest, most gorgeous shade of blue. It was the only blue worthy of painting the cloak of the Virgin Mary.

Along with other luxuries such as silks, porcelains and spices, the ultramarine pigment helped shape the modern world.

The desire for luxury brought a heretofore-unseen wealth to Europe, and particularly to the Italian trading cities of Venice, Genoa and Florence. As wealth increased, with it grew the art and culture that would be indicative of the Renaissance period. From a stone in an Afghan river valley to the canvas of an Italian Master, the world became a much smaller place.

2015 AD – What does it Mean?

When learning about history, we use terms such as BC, AD, CE and BCE, but what do they mean? The Christian monk Dionysius Exiguus, attempting to create a calendar counting from the year of the birth of Jesus of Nazareth designated the year “0” as that which he thought him to be born (modern scholarship disputes this). Thus, “BC” means “Before Christ.” A popular misconception is that “AD” means “After Death,” when in reality, it means “Anno Domini,” or “In the Year of Our Lord,” counting from Jesus’ birth. Modern day secular scholars usually use the designations “CE,” or “of the Common Era,” or “BCE,” or” Before the Common Era” instead.

The World We Created

Due September 29

For this study, you will be playing the role of a reporter. The purpose of this assignment is to learn about a part of our history in a way that relates closely to who we are as told by the people who lived it. Students will be seeking out family members, or others to whom they are close, and conducting an interview with them about a part of history that they lived. The interview is a primary source because the person was present during the time period and can offer a unique viewpoint on the experience.

This is an opportunity to not only study a part of history, but also to learn a little bit about who you are and where you come from through speaking with family and close friends. The goal of this assignment is for you to gain a bit more of an understanding about who you are in relation to the major events that have shaken the world. Speak to your parents, grandparents or others… feel free to use journals or diaries if they are available.

Before delving into the interview with the people who lived through the event/era, ask your interviewee to put their lives in context to the event/era you discuss. Find out details about their lives, including how old they were at the time, where they were living, and what they were doing as a career at the time of the event/era as well as any other pertinent information about the person that will help the reader to understand why the person has the viewpoint he or she does about the event/era (For example, someone living in Afghanistan during the coalition invasion would have a vastly different experience with that conflict than a Canadian soldier). You should state in your paper how the person’s life circumstances at the time of the event/era affected the way they perceived it.

M. Berrigan, Sept. 21, 2015

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