Saturday, March 05, 2011

Five Diorama Ideas: Possible Historical Diorama Projects for Students, Hobbyists, or History Buffs in General

This is a slightly revised version of an article I wrote for Suite101 a couple years back. The diorama ideas cover American history in general, not simply the American Revolutionary period, but I thought my readers here might be interested nonetheless.

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Five Diorama Ideas: Possible Historical Diorama Projects for Students, Hobbyists, and History Buffs in General

American history is an exciting subject, especially for those able to put themselves into history. Those who dislike history have never captured the ability to immerse themselves in it, instead seeing the past as a frustrating array of names and dates. Getting past that misconception is one of the important keys in capturing a love for history (or getting one's child to love history), and dioramas are a great tool in achieving this.

A diorama is a miniature scene, depicting an episode or setting from the past. It's kind of like an artificial, three-dimensional "snapshot" of the past, and it can be a compelling way for someone to connect with history.

To make a diorama, you will need:
  • cardboard box or sturdy container of some kind
  • dollhouse dolls or miniature figures
  • miniature trees, rocks, and other outdoor objects
  • dollhouse furniture (depending on your diorama)
  • modeling clays
  • miniature animals
  • paints
You should also check out this great diorama starter kit from Amazon and ask a local hobby store employee for anything else you might need.

What follows are five suggestions for exciting dioramas depicting events and settings of American history. Whether you are a history buff, hobbyist, or history student, these suggestions for dioramas should get your creative juices flowing. They are:

1) The Drafting of the Declaration of Independence

Your diorama will feature the committee appointed by the Second Continental Congress to draft the Declaration of Independence. There were five delegates on the committee -- three of which are household names (Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson). This scene can be depicted with a wooden or plastic surface, painted and/or 'treated' to resemble a colonial hardwood floor. You will then need a colonial desk and at least two chairs. Sitting should be Thomas Jefferson, pen in hand preferably, and also the elder statesman Benjamin Franklin. John Adams can be standing, peering over Mr. Jefferson's work.

2) Lewis & Clark

For this scene, you need two principal explorers (Lewis and Clark obviously) and perhaps a couple individuals accompanying them (Sacajawea perhaps). Have them standing on a rock cliff overlooking a valley, peering through a telescope into the distance. Backgrounds are key here. Attention to detail in the painting will be critical. You will need to use a combination of miniature trees, rocks, cliff-like facades, and paints to create the effect.

3) GIs Around a Sherman Tank

Show a squad of US infantry gathered around a Sherman tank in World War II, taking a brief respite from the action of the day. Have three or four sitting on the tank, with several others leaning against it or sitting around the perimeter. You'll need grass, dirt, stone, and good painting for the backgrounds. To add to the effect, you could have a smoldering German Panzer in the background. Put some dead bodies around as well.

4) World War I Trench Warfare

This will take some elaborate planning, but it's one that will look absolutely awesome when you're done - provided it is of course done right. Not only that, but it will showcase one of the most interesting and significant aspects of the Great War -- life in the trenches. Your diorama should feature soldiers living along a trench line, in various modes from sleeping, watching through the periscope, eating, and so forth. The rest of the diorama (working our way forward from the trench) will be "No Man's Land" with barbed wire, dead bodies, shell holes, debris, etc.

5) USS Monitor v. CSS Virginia

How about a diorama featuring the most important naval battle in US history - the Civil War fight that signaled the end of wooden ships and the rise of the modern navies? This was the fight that pitted the CSS Virginia (the raised and retrofitted USS Merrimack) against the "cheesebox on a raft" (otherwise known as the USS Monitor), the first warship with a movable turret.

Dioramas are time-consuming and can be very tedious. For more information on how to do them effectively, you should check out Sheperd Paine's How to Build a Diorama. The reward of dioramas, however, makes them worth it - provided, of course, they are done right. Good luck.

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