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Lesson Plan The Minerva Mosaic of the Library of Congress: Taking a Closer Look

Students take a close analytical look at the historic Minerva mosaic from the Great Hall of the Library of Congress, and discover what it can tell them about the mission of the Library's founders. They will perform a basic primary source analysis, and then discuss the symbolism and mythology of the mosaic.


Students will be able to:
  • Perform a basic primary source analysis of a visual object.
  • Interpret the symbolism of the artistic elements of the Minerva mosaic.


Students will be able to:

  • Identify historical events referenced in music.
  • Examine pieces of sheet music and identify context, purpose, and perspective with regard to the political, social, and economic conditions existing at that time.
  • Explore ways music is used to shape public opinion.
  • Create lyrics and music covers for an original song illustrating a topic of the Progressive Era.

Time Required

One class

Lesson Preparation

This lesson is intended to be an introduction to primary source analysis, and is best used with students who have some understanding of Roman/Greek mythology including the goddess Minerva, Victory (Nike), and Medusa.


The following materials will be used during this lesson:


Before leading students through the observations, teachers should make themselves familiar with the following resources:

Lesson Procedure

Students will study the visual details of the Minerva mosaic using a three-step process: “Observe, Reflect, Question.” Students will use the Primary Source Analysis Tool (PDF, 79 KB) to record their observations.

  1. Tell students that they are going to take a look at an important work of art. The artist included many symbols and illustrations that are common in mythology. The class will take a close look at this work of art and think about the meaning of the symbols in the art.
  2. Working with the entire class, the teacher will model the analysis process using one section of the divided Minerva mosaic (upper right corner).
    • a. Display this section to the class or hand out copies.
    • b. Display the analysis tool.
    • c. Observe: Have students carefully study the image. What objects or people do they see? Use descriptive terms so that someone who has not seen the image might visualize it. What other details can be seen? Model writing answers, for example:
      Observe Reflect Question
      A face
      White shapes
      It is a man
      They are clouds or wings
      Rays of the sun
      Who is the person?
      What is the person doing?
      Where is the person?
    • d. Reflect: Draw upon students’ prior knowledge. What do they know about the female figures? What do they know about other objects? Speculate on what might be happening in the picture. What evidence do they see that makes them think that?
    • e. Question: What do they want to find out? What do they wonder about?
  3. Hand out the printed sections of the Minerva mosaic (one per student).
  4. Hand out the Primary Source Analysis Tool (one per student).
  5. Have students individually examine their section and begin the “Observe-Reflect-Question” process, taking notes on their analysis tool.
  6. Explain to the class that they will be sharing their findings with other people who have the same piece of mosaic. Then each group will present what they think they know about the mosaic (the middle column of the analysis tool) to the whole class.
  7. Have students find other students with the same Minerva section and compare their findings
    • a. Assign locations for each group to work.
    • b. Ask each group to select a recorder.
    • c. Ask each group to select a reporter.
  8. Have each group tape its section up on the board, and then share what they think they know with the class.
  9. Tell the class about the mosaic, using information from the Minerva Teacher Guide. (PDF, 284 KB)
  10. Tell the class that the quotation at the bottom of the mosaic means, “Not unwilling, Minerva raises a monument more lasting than bronze.” How does the quotation explain the work of art?
  11. As a whole class, consider questions such as:
    • Why would the artist select a goddess of Wisdom, War and Peace to represent the Library of Congress?
    • Why would it be important for Minerva to defend the people’s right to learn?
    • How would you defend your right to learn?
  12. Have students choose an element from the mosaic, and write a paragraph explaining or defending why Vedder included it.


  • Write a new saying or find a different quotation for the bottom of the Minerva mosaic.
  • Draw a replica of Minerva including the details you think are most important.
  • Look for symbols in and around your school building. What ideas or values do you think they represent?
  • What symbols represent “wisdom and learning” to you? Draw them or list them.
  • Look for symbols from Greek and Roman mythology in your community, and explain why you think they were selected for that particular location.
  • Design a mosaic, painting or other visual representation of your school (or your family or community). Explain why you chose the symbols you chose, and what they represent to you.

Lesson Evaluation

  • Evaluation of the student analysis sheet and observations.
  • Teacher observation of critical thinking.
  • Teacher observation of collaborative work.
  • Evaluation of the student’s reflection on a chosen element.