Historical Evidence: Archaeological Practice as a Pedagogical Tool for Historical Education in Singapore, pp. 6 of 10

The main inquiry question that frames the lesson is: “How do we know what we know of the past?” This question is intended to not only challenge students’ preconceived notions and/or misconceptions about history, but also to develop their understanding of the past and how knowledge about the past is constructed. This question will be unpacked through three sub-inquiry questions (see Figure 2) that accompany the focus of each lesson:

  1. Gathering Evidence: How do historians gather sources and use them as evidence?
  2. Interpreting Historical Objects: How do archaeologists determine what an object is and what are its functions?
  3. Drawing Conclusions: What kind of conclusions can historians draw from artefacts or sources?

Working collaboratively, students will examine pottery sherds, replicas and picture cards to negotiate ideas and develop interpretations. The use of artefacts will help generate interest and discussion in class. In the course of investigating the question, they will work critically with a variety of sources and be in a position to draw conclusions that are supported by evidence.

Lesson 1 – gathering evidence

Students were divided into groups of four or five individuals and provided with a set of three to four artefacts from the source-kit (supplemented with picture cards, see Figures 3 and 4) and an artefact recording sheet. They were tasked to sort the artefacts into three main categories, Porcelain, Stoneware, and Earthenware and fill out the recording sheet based on their observations (see Figures 5 and 6). They were also given a conceptual guide on how to sort and differentiate the artefacts (see Figure 7) as it usually takes an expert to distinguish the pieces. Even with this basic guide, the method is not foolproof.

In the first lesson, students become a junior historian by gathering sources of information from artefacts and asking questions (5W1H model) that will help them to construct knowledge of the past. There were many interesting questions posed such as “what was the object used for?”, “how was it crafted?” and “what were the reasons behind the object’s colour and complex design?” These were important questions that would help them in the next stage when they moved on to examine the artefacts in detail. Some of them were already forming general inferences about Singapore’s early past by responding to the questions their peers had raised. Others started to make comparisons between pieces and making astute observations about the artefacts’ similarities and differences.

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

Newsletter Subscription

Subscribe to our newsletter and stay up-to-date with new journal issues!