Lesson Plan: Gravestones Advanced


This lesson plan builds off of the Basic Gravestones Lesson Plan in which students were asked to think about how gravestone art has changed over time by creating a seriation study of one of the cemeteries in the Jewish Atlantic World database.  In this lesson plan, students then compare the colonial cemetery they charted in the Basic Gravestones Lesson Plan to one today of the same denomination that they have photographed themselves.  Images that the students have collected are displayed in an Omeka site.


  • To analyze significance of images and text on individual gravestones
  • To understand how gravestones have changed over time using a seriation chart
  • To think about how changes in gravestone art reflect changes in religious beliefs
  • To learn how to create a digital archive using Omeka.


3-4 weeks (plus the time for the Basic Gravestones Lesson Plan)


This assignment is intended for college students or advanced high school students.


  • Students will need access to a computer that has an internet connection.  If you want them to do advanced seriation charts, they will also need Excel.
  • Students will need access to a digital camera and means of transportation to a local Jewish cemetery

Lesson Plan Text

Step 1: Set Up The Site

  1. Create an Omeka site for your class.  Create a Simple page that lists the objectives for the cemetery project and the steps students will need to take.  You will probably want to include a link to the “Browse Cemeteries by Location” page of the database. Make sure you also Install plugins you will need for your assignment such as the Exhibit Builder and Simple Pages.
  2. You may want to read Dean Eastman’s “Tiptoeing through the Tombstones.”  This lesson is a variation on his assignment, but the current assignment has been designed for using with Jewish cemeteries and for people whose students don’t live near colonial cemeteries.
  3. Clarify your expectations.  Based on how long you want the project to take, decide how many gravestones you want each student to include in their exhibits.  Some cemeteries are extremely large:  do you want to divide the cemetery into sections?  Also, it is possible that you will have students in your class who are Kohenim and hence cannot enter a cemetery.  Determine how they will complete this assignment:  for example, will they use two cemeteries from the database instead for their comparison?  Would you rather they analyzed how cemeteries have made accommodations for Kohenim?  If so, their analysis might also include the House of the Cohenim in Curaçao. Should they photograph the graves of Kohenim that are usually visible from outside of the cemetery? Etc.
  4. Do some research finding out what cemeteries in your area are open to the public.  Compile a list and add it as a simple page to your Omeka site.

Step 2: Prepare Students and Assign Roles

  1. If you haven’t already, introduce students to the idea of studying cemeteries and doing seriation studies by having them read James Deetz and Edwin Dethlefsen’s “Death’s Head, Cherub, Urn and Willow,” (Natural History, 1967) and Laura Leibman and Suzanna Goldblatt’s “Grave Matters: Childhood, Identity, and Converso Funerary Art in Colonial America.” Sephardic Horizons 2.3 (2012).
  2. Have students sign up to work on a specific cemetery in the database and propose what their comparison cemetery will be in your city.  It will help if they limit the variables in their comparison–e.g. if the cemetery is either the same religious denomination in a different era or (if they are only using the database) different denominations in the same era and same town.  Students can work in small groups or individually.
  3. Have students create a seriation study of the colonial cemetery using the Basic Gravestones Lesson Plan.

Step 3: Students Begin Their Pages

  1. Students either create their own sites or becoming administrative users on your website.  If it is their own site, they should email you their URL.  A logical URL for their site might include the name of the cemetery.  If they are creating their own sites, you will want to provide time and guidance for how to Install plugins etc.
  2. Link to the students’ pages on their cemetery from your website.  This will allow students to easily make connections to what other students are doing.
  3. Ask students to create 2-3 simple pages on their colonial cemetery and on the cemetery they will be photographing.  For example, pages might include “About Me,” “Introduction to [Name of Cemetery],” “Bibliography” (list of print and online resources for their cemetery or the religious community that created it).  They will probably also want to post a simple page with information about what they found in their colonial cemetery and what they expect to find in the cemetery they will be photographing.
  4. After students have completed this segment, be prepared to give them feedback on their site and simple pages and provide a timetable for revisions

Step 4: Students collect their “objects” and analyze them

  1. Students visit cemetery and digitally photograph each stone.  It usually helps if they take 2-3 photos of each stone to make sure they end up with usable images.
  2. Students make a list of the different type of images used on the stones.  These might include flowers, abstract shapes, Jewish symbols (like a star of David or candles), or angels, death’s heads, or biblical figures.
  3. Transcribe stones, noting name, date of death, gender, and type of images used.

Step 5: Students create galleries in Omeka

  1. Under the items header in Omeka, students add the images they took.
  2. Encourage students to add date to each image and to tag them with keywords.
  3. If students want, they can download some or all of the images from the colonial cemetery they worked on in the Jewish Atlantic World Database and add these to their Omeka exhibit.

Step 6: Students create a seriation chart for the cemetery they chose from the database

  1. Students should determine what variables they will enter into their seriation charts.  Are they interested in headers? Images only? Likewise, if their cemetery is large they may want to limit the date range for the stones they will study.
  2. Here are some blank seriation charts to be completed by students (or you can use your own)

Simple Seriation Chart for Christian Cemeteries (word doc)

Simple Seriation Chart for Colonial Jewish Cemeteries (word doc)

Simple Seriation Chart for Colonial Jewish Cemeteries (pdf)

Advanced Seriation Chart (excel)

Instructions for Excel Charting

Sample Completed Seriation Charts

Step 7: Students graph their results

  1. If students are using excel, they should follow step three on the instructions (“Making Charts”)
  2. If students are using a simple seriation chart, they should complete either the simple Seriation Graph for a Christian Cemetery or Jewish Cemetery using Deetz and Dethlefsen’s Figure 1 as a model.  Students should list the decades they covered in the left column and then fill in the rectangles under each type of image according to how many stones were found starting at the center of each column.  For example, if one death’s head was found in the first decade, fill in the center rectangle in that row under death’s head.

Step 8: Analyzing Results

  1. After Students have charted their results, they should  compare their results to those from their colonial cemetery.   You may also want to have students compare their results to those found by others in the class.
  2. Ask students to hypothesize about what the differences (or similarities) mean.

Step 9: Write up

  1. Ask students to create one or more simple pages explaining what they discovered in their seriation study and their comparison to the colonial cemetery.
  2. Students may want to digitize their charts and graphs either by scanning them or by taking digital photographs of them and add them as items to their Omeka installation.

Bibliography & Resources

  • For a Complete Bibliography and Glossary see the Resources page of the Jewish Atlantic World Database.
  • See the Resources page on this site.

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