Early American Art, Architecture, Music, & Literature

Essential Question

What were the art and literature of early America like?


Thomas Cole (1801–1848), The Oxbow, View from Mount Holyoke, Northampton, Massachusetts, after a Thunderstorm (1836), The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Frederic Edwin Church, Niagara Falls, 1857, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, DC.

Albert Bierstadt, Among the Sierra Nevada Mountains, California, 1868, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, DC.

Discussion Questions

  • What is the first thing you noticed about these paintings?

  • All these paintings are part of the Hudson River School. What was the subject of all their paintings? Why?

  • Why do you think these paintings were so popular in Early America?

By the 1830s the Hudson River School had emerged. It was a group of artists whose name came from the subject of many of their paintings. Their paintings reflected national pride and an appreciation of the American landscape.


Massachusetts State House

In a Drawing by Alexander Jackson Davis, 1827

The White House 1807

by Granger

Discussion Questions

  • What is the first thing you noticed about the architecture of early America?

  • Building during this time had an equal number of doors, windows, and columns on each side for unity. Why might unity be so important?

  • What civilization influenced early American architecture? Why might that be?


During this time, people sang songs called spirituals. A type of folk hymn. Popular folk music of the period reflected the unique views of the growing nation in other ways. One of the most popular songs of the era, “Hunters of Kentucky,” celebrated the Battle of New Orleans.

Hunters of Kentucky

Yankee Doodle

Fair and Free Elections

Discussion Questions

  • What is the first thing you noticed about the music?

  • Many early American songs were influenced by old English melodies. How are these two songs an example of that?

  • What are some themes that the songs have in common? What can you tell about early American music?


James Fenimore Cooper

James Fenimore Cooper wrote novels about the West and the Native Americans who lived on the frontier. His novel The Last of the Mohicans places fictional characters in a real historical setting.

Washington Irving

A Portrait of a Nation "Rip Van Winkle" first published in 1819-1820, is one of the earliest works of American literature to embrace the new nation as its subject. Washington Irving gives the story its distinctly American character with detailed descriptions of landscapes, town life, politics, and people in the Catskill Mountains and Hudson Valley region of New York.

Even the mystical men Rip Van Winkle encounters in the mountains figure into the idea of an American story. They are not the fairies or pixies of folklore/ but rather early Dutch colonists under the leadership of explorer Henry Hudson.

Activity 1: Primary Source - Rip Van Winkle by Washington Irving

Define the vocabulary words, read the primary source excerpts, and answer the text-dependent questions.

Primary Source-Rip Van Winkle by Washington Irving

Activity 2: How would you describe the art, architecture, music, and literature of early America?

Using the information from this lesson, answer the questions in a thinking map. Complete this assignment digitally or on paper. It will be collected in your portfolio.

Extension Activities