The Knotted Line

Get your students ready for an imaginative ride through history. The Knotted Line uses interactive media and over 50 paintings—representing historic and future events from 1495 to 2025—to explore the relationship between freedom and incarceration in America.

History is not the past. It is the stories we tell about the past. How we tell these stories—triumphantly, self-critically, metaphysically, dialectically— has a lot to do with whether we as human beings cut short or advance our evolution.

—Grace Lee Boggs


How is freedom measured? As a concept, we can only understand it in the context of how it defines and confines those who are not free.

For artist Evan Bissell, the seed for The Knotted Line was planted while working at an Oakland public high school. He reflected on the

Painting: 1957-Little Rock 9, by Evan Bissell.

students who were expelled, and conversations he had with students who had incarcerated family members. It dawned on Evan that the prison system not only controls over 7 million people in this country, but also has deep historical roots in many of our country’s institutions, including public education.

Your students will use interactive media, paintings, and graphics to gain a deeper personal understanding of the past, present, and future relationship between freedom and incarceration.


Getting Started

Watch this 3-minute video first. It explains components of The Knotted Line and how to use them. Then, move on to the three major components of The Knotted Line:

Interactive Experience

The timeline explores the historical relationships between freedom and confinement using 61 silhouettes and 45 paintings. Move the mouse along the curves and lines to reveal images and facts. For

Painting: 1895-Hopi on Alcatraz, by Evan Bissell.

example, the line opens up at 1895 to reveal a painting of 19 Hopi men imprisoned at Alcatraz for refusing to send their children to boarding school. At 1972, stretch the line to view a striking illustration and learn that Delaware was the last state to abolish the whipping post. At every point, the “Click for More” button leads to discussion questions and further resources.

Curriculum  (downloadable and free)

A menu of projects and workshops are offered to explore the history of freedom and incarceration as a way to understand the present. Curriculum is ready-to-use, participatory, and designed for a spectrum of learners. It identifies appropriate grade level and Common Core high school standard. It also provides project outlines, worksheets, videos, and slideshows. Workshops and project topics cover a range of topics such as Whose Freedom? Our Freedom!, Historical Fiction Time Travel, and Media Analysis Basics.

The Knotted Line Website

Timeline: More information, video, discussion questions, and “actions for self-determination” accompany each of the 70 historic

Painting: 2011-Guantanamo, by Evan Bissell.

moments introduced in the interactive experience.

Paintings: A gallery of the 45 paintings created by Bissell.

Themes: A collection of ten themes that weave and intersect along the Knotted Line. Each theme is accompanied by additional outside resources, videos, lesson plans and activities. Themes include Youth Issues, War on Drugs, and Inclusion/Exclusion.