Themes in The General History of Virginia

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Themes in The General History of Virginia

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Activity Overview


Themes come alive when you use a storyboard. In this activity, students will identify key themes in John Smith’s The General History of Virginia and support their choices with details from the text.

Themes and Ideas to Discuss

The Importance of Self-Reliance

The settlers embarked on a journey to a world where they would have no contact with home. It was essential that they be able to build their own settlement, draw on resources from the land, make friends with the Native Americans if possible, and begin a long-term investment in this new future. The people who went needed to be prepared to do all of this without much help from home.


The Excitement of Exploration

For Smith, the trip is a combination of virtù, prosperity, and piety. The first, virtù, is a sense of adventure and heroism - an expectancy of the achievement of great things. Going to Jamestown was stepping into an unknown world. It was full of mystery, excitement, and danger. Second, the exploration of this new place could yield new and great riches, an opportunity which many would jump at. Finally, the new world was an opportunity to bring Christianity to new peoples and places. The excitement was palpable for the settlers.


The Necessity of Hard Work

In spite of the many hardships the settlers faced, Smith did not have a lot of patience for those who could not pull their own weight. When he was finally put in charge, he ensured that the settlers had plenty of incentive to work hard by telling them that those who did not work would not eat. Smith and other leaders of the settlement knew that in the harsh conditions, so far away from the homeland, everyone would have to work hard so that they all could survive.


Man vs. Nature

The elements wore on the settlers, from the first starving time, where they were unable to produce a viable crop, to the bitter cold of the first winter. Then, the settlers were plagued by illness and disease, and unable to work or contribute. Made worse by all of this were periodic attacks by the Native Americans, who knew the landscape better than the settlers did. The human will to survive in such circumstances is one that Smith highlights and celebrates throughout his narrative.




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Template and Class Instructions

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Student Instructions

Create a storyboard that identifies recurring themes in The General History of Virginia. Illustrate instances of each theme and write a short description below each cell.


  1. Click "Start Assignment".
  2. Identify the theme(s) from The General History of Virginia you wish to include and replace the "Theme 1" text.
  3. Create an image for examples that represent this theme.
  4. Write a description of each of the examples.
  5. Save and submit your storyboard.

Template: Theme

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