What is History Teaching?, pp. 6 of 10

What are Sources and Evidence?

A source is a document, newspaper, book, picture, diary, headstone, cartoon, building, novel, poem, video, etc. It is anything that gives a historian information which could be used as evidence to draw a conclusion about an historical event or issue. It is only when the source has relevance to the historian’s investigation that it is known as an evidence.

Sources can be primary or secondary sources. At its most basic level, primary sources are things that are left behind by the people of the era we are investigating. Secondary sources are second hand accounts of a historical event.

Figures 2 and 3 are some samples of sources that historians use (Wolfson & Aylett, 1988).

An investigation in the Classroom

In teaching the disciplinary procedures of history, students need to realise that history is a construct of the past. A detective, who attempts to solve a crime would look for clues, make inferences from the clues and come to a conclusion as to who the murderer was, how a crime was committed, etc. The historian’s investigation is not about a mystery that just happened but one that happened long ago. His clues would be the traces of the past (sources) that have been left behind. The main pedagogy used should be the inquiry approach. This entails the teacher setting up an inquiry with a question.

For a simple inquiry, students may want to do an “archaeological dig”. For the topic on civilisations, the teacher can come up with boxes with layers of evidence (artefacts). The students can then infer what they think that box tells them about that ‘civilisation’.

Below is the cycle of how you may want to conduct your investigation.

Step One

Before the students start their inquiry, the teacher should set the context of the inquiry so that students do not come into the inquiry without the background or contextual knowledge that most historians would have. Moreover, without the context, students would find it difficult to apply historical empathy to their inquiry (not that contextual knowledge alone would help students practise historical empathy).

There are various strategies teachers can use in the process of “doing history”. Teachers can start the inquiry by storytelling to garner your students’ interest and at the same time giving them contextual knowledge. Or, if it so happens that what is in your syllabus happens to explain some problem that is happening in the world today, teachers can get students to read the article in the newspaper to hook their interest and then get them to investigate the past to explain why this problem exists, for example, an issue on migration in the present. Teachers can also show them a comic strip as a starter to get them interested.

An Inspiring Quote

"[Open-mindedness] includes an active desire to listen to more sides than one; to give heed to facts from whatever source they come; to give full attention to alternative possibilities; to recognize the possibility of error even in the beliefs that are dearest to us."

~ John Dewey, How We Think

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