taught properly should include a mix of content and process. It is
important for students to be introduced to the most important events in
Canadian history, but it is equally important that they have an
opportunity to practice the historical method. The analytical skills
students use when applying the historical method are the skills they need
to process information when they read newspapers, watch television, use
the internet or even when they interact with other people. A brief summary
of the historical method is found in the following
the years teachers have experimented with a wide variety of ways to make
Social Studies more interesting. One way frequently tried was to use
primary source documents to supplement the curriculum. This approach often
failed because the documents used were too long or complex, and the biases
too subtle for students to detect. The documents were often carefully
selected to reinforce the interpretation found in the textbook, rather
than to challenge it or to allow students to develop and support their own
Many documents focused on constitutional history or other
dry issues of little interest to students. There was very little variety
in the types of primary sources used, with the emphasis nearly always on
written documents. Compilers of the primary sources tended to avoid using
the types of sources encountered by people in their everyday lives.
Documents with strong points of view or which lacked credibility or
reliability were not used, and their use was discouraged by ministry of
education officials and publishers.
an attempt to enliven history, engage students in the historical method,
and give them an opportunity to practice critical thinking skills, the
Begbie Canadian History Contest uses primary sources which meet the
following criteria: they are varied, often visual, encountered in everyday
life, reflecting multiple points of view on an issue, often controversial
or less reliable, often challenging the textbook interpretation of events,
as short as possible, and above all as inherently interesting as
Begbie Canadian History Contest: Years 1 to 20 data base contains a large
number of carefully selected primary sources which enable students to
practise the skills historians (and citizens) need when processing
information. A detailed index to the data base enables teachers to quickly
find a variety of materials dealing with both major and minor events in
Canadian history. Strategies for using these materials are grouped
according to the different stages of the historical method outlined in the
Ideas for Using Primary Sources in the Classroom
following ideas use primary sources contained in The Begbie Canadian
History Contest. Many of the ideas came from my thirty-four years of
teaching Canadian History, Advanced Placement and International
Baccalaureate European History courses. Most would work equally well for
to consider when selecting a teaching strategy:
sources should be used to supplement a unit of study and should not be
used in isolation. Historians and students can use primary sources only if
they know the context surrounding the source. The activities used will
depend on the grade level and abilities of students, the time of year, the
students’ experience in using primary sources, the time available, and if
the activity is for:
class work or homework
individual students, groups of students or the whole
assignments, presentations, class discussions or a combination of
an assigned set of documents or documents found in a variety of
the beginning, middle or end of a lesson or unit of
use when analyzing any primary source:
(evaluating a source
for its reliability and accuracy)
What kind of source is it?
What is the
source about (people, places, ideas, time or events)?
What point is the
source trying to make?
How complete is the source?
2. Context (time and
When was the source created: during the
event, soon after or much later?
What do we know about the time period
in which it was created (the social, political and economic context)?
Where was the source created and under what
Was the creator of the source close in location to an
actual event or in a position to get good secondhand evidence?
3. Subtext (unspoken thoughts and
Who created the source? What credentials does
the writer or artist have?
What can we infer about the author’s
perspective or point of view (bias) by studying the source?
Why was the source created? For whom? Look for
emotionally charged words or devices.
Whose interests does the source
Was it intended to inform, persuade or entertain?
the document omit?
How do I know
What clues are there?
(conclusion reached on the basis of
evidence and reasoning)
to use when analyzing specific types of primary
information does the advertisement contain?
can we learn about society at the time the source was
is the advertisement trying to accomplish (persuade, stimulate,
some details from the advertisement that reveal the methods the person who
created it used to make it appealing (words, colours, shapes, poses,
settings, use of emotion).
is the target audience?
the artifact in detail.
was the artifact made from?
tools and technologies were used in its
was it made and where was it found?
was it made?
might it have been used for?
does it tell us about the past?
should we preserve it?
author of an autobiography often puts the best possible light on his or
her own role in events, and the passage of time dulls memory. Read the
accompanying excerpt from an autobiography. To what extent does this
statement about autobiographies hold true for the
covers are designed to be eye-catching and to sell books. Evaluate this
cover with these two criteria in mind.
5. Debates (House of
the speech directed at constituents or colleagues?
important idea is summarized in the diagram or
do the individual parts of the diagram or chart support the point being
was the diagram or chart created?
events or ideas are included in the diary?
and where was the diary written?
did the person keep a diary?
the diary meant to be personal or private?
8. Editorials and opinion
and opinion columns are subjective, unlike the rest of the newspaper,
which is supposed to be objective. An editorial speaks on behalf of the
newspaper as an institution and is often influenced by the owner or
publisher of the newspaper. An opinion column expresses the personal
opinion of the author.
and where was the newspaper published?
is the editor’s or author’s opinion?
the writer back up arguments with examples?
the title and legend of the graph. The information on the X and Y
(horizontal and vertical) axes tells you which sets of information were
used to construct the graph. Study the rest of the graph. What can you
learn about how these sets of information are related by studying the
was this graph prepared?
a SOAPS analysis of the
illustration (Subject, Occasion, Audience, Purpose,
11. Leaflets and
and pamphlets, like political cartoons, are designed to promote one point
of view as quickly and efficiently as possible. Instead of using visual
devices they use words to make their point. What verbal devices did the
author of this leaflet or pamphlet use to communicate a
information is contained in the letter?
and where was it written?
the letter meant to be private or public?
wrote it, and to whom was it written?
was the relationship between the two parties (formal or personal, between
equals, between a subordinate and a superior)?
the point of view of the writer based on the time and events of the period
(consider the larger context of local, provincial, country or world
is shown on the cover?
and where was the magazine published?
the magazine cover realistic or romanticized?
can you learn by studying the cover?
cover do you like the best and why do you like it?
the title, direction, scale and key or legend.
is shown on the map?
and where was the map drawn and published?
was the map produced?
was the intended audience?
15. Monuments, statues and
statues and plaques are erected by public and private
and statues “are sermons in stone.” What was the item in question meant to
communicate or commemorate?
do you think motivated people to finance and create this monument, statue
and eyewitnesses may misunderstand events or distort their reports,
deliberately or unconsciously, to enhance their own image or importance.
Such effects increase over time. As Winston Churchill once said, “History
will be kind to me, for I intend to write it.” Is there evidence of this
in this source?
was this song or piece of music composed?
and when was it published?
was it likely written?
themes dominate a given era?
topic is addressed in these headlines?
the words chosen hint at the editor’s viewpoint or position on the
and where was the story written?
did they write it?
the reporter objective (does the reporter give a balanced view of the
topic and use neutral language)?
you find evidence of the newspaper’s economic or political
other sources on the same topic support or challenge the view presented?
everything you see in the painting.
and where did it happen?
and where was the painting completed?
can you learn about the time period presented?
was it painted?
doesn’t the painting show?
happened before and after the scene depicted?
what ways might this painting differ from a photograph of the same
the artist romanticized or dramatically portrayed the subject
feelings do you get from viewing this painting?
title would you give this painting?
reasonable inferences can you make from this
In order to get students to focus on detail, show them a photograph,
painting or poster for two minutes and then cover it. Have the students
describe as much detail as they can remember. Show them the image again
and have them add any details they missed to their list. Repeat using new
images until the students’ ability to recall detail
Why do organizations publish and distribute
Describe the topic addressed by this pamphlet.
Where and when was it published?
Who published it and why did they publish it?
How have humans modified this landscape?
What can we see, experience and learn about past
events and people by visiting this site?
What primary sources are needed to provide historical
context for the events or people associated with this site?
Petitions are an effective way of educating people on
an issue and lobbying governments between elections. What group of people
likely prepared this petition?
Why do you think they prepared it?
Would you have signed the petition? Why or why
What is happening in the photograph (list the
When and where was the photograph taken?
What do you know about the time period and
Who is in the photograph and what are they doing?
Was the photograph candid or posed?
What was left out of the composition?
Is this image representative of an era?
Have any features been exaggerated or distorted?
Who do you think took the photograph?
Is there a title and caption? Are they appropriate?
Write your own caption for the picture.
Suggest what happened after the photograph was
Is this photograph more or less objective than a
written document on the same subject?
26. Select an
interesting photograph from Canada’s past. Carefully research the time
period and context in which the photograph was taken and recreate the
event in costume. Have each person explain what they were thinking when
the photograph was taken.
Select two or more cartoons on one topic and:
If the cartoons show
the same person drawn by different cartoonists, ask the students to
comment on the use of caricature and how the cartoonists have used it in
the cartoons. Has the cartoonist exaggerated any physical features of the
people in the cartoon?
effectiveness of the wording used in each cartoon. Ask the students to
describe how words are used to help convey a message.
Note the use of
signing (facial expressions, body language, appearance). Can you think of
different signing that might weaken the cartoons? strengthen the cartoons?
Identify objects, symbols and attire seen in the
cartoon and explain their significance.
Compare the use of
stereotypes. Are any of the stereotypes unfair?
Compare the analogies
used by each cartoonist. What two things are being compared? Try to come
up with a different analogy the cartoonist could have used for each
Compare the use of
size and/or shading. How does each artist use it to help make a point?
Compare the message
of each cartoon. Describe the way in which each cartoonist makes a point.
Is there a common theme?
Create your own
cartoon on the theme illustrated by the cartoons.
eliminate everything from their cartoons that is not useful. What is
missing from each drawing? Can you find anything that does not have a
Remove the titles,
labels and dialogue from each cartoon. Ask the students to make up their
own titles, labels and dialogue.
Remove the citations,
then ask the students to place the cartoons in chronological order and
attempt to identify the region or country of origin and the political
point of view of the artist.
Do the cartoons agree
Why are there differences in the cartoons?
28. Select and
analyze five political cartoons dealing with one event, person or
Which cartoon best exemplifies the features of good
political cartooning? Explain.
29. See The Art of
Decoding Political Cartoons: a Teacher’s Guide for additional ideas on
using political cartoons in the classroom.
30. Polls and
Why is it important to know who conducted or
commissioned a poll or plebiscite and when, where and why they conducted
What conclusions can you draw from this poll or
What is depicted in this poster?
When and where was it created?
What does it tell us about society at the time?
Who published this poster?
Why was it produced: to convey information or to
persuade the viewer to follow a particular course of action?
Who was the intended audience?
What was the message of the poster? How is this
32. Good poster
artists attempt to make their message simple, direct, clear, memorable and
dramatic. Has this artist done any of these things? If so, how? Write a
paragraph explaining whether or not you think this poster is effective.
Support your position by referring to the poster. Create your own poster
dealing with the unit of history you are currently studying.
What are the key words in the quotation?
What do you know about the person
making the statement?
What do you think is the main
reason for the speaker’s statement?
Slogans are designed to make a
point as clearly and as quickly as possible. In the process they usually
reflect the biases or point of view of the group which uses them. Evaluate
the effectiveness of these slogans.
What is the song about?
When and where was the song
What do we need to know about the
historical context in which the song was produced in order to understand
and interpret the song?
What does the song tell us about
the society and culture in which it was produced?
Who created the song?
Why was it created?
What is the speaker’s key
When was the speech given?
What is the speaker’s point of
Who was the audience?
What topic or
theme is illustrated in the stamps?
Why was this
title, source and date of the statistics. Read the title and column
headings in order to get an idea of what is being shown. Look for patterns
and trends in the data over time, increases and decreases, similarities
Why did they
Is it a
paragraph summarizing the conclusions you can draw from the
Teaching Strategies Using the Historical Method:
The historian selects a subject for investigation
39. Start your class with an interesting primary
source on the day’s topic written on the board or projected onto a screen.
Students entering your class will know that you will start the lesson with
an analysis of the source. This will give the students something to look
forward to in your class, challenge them to think critically, and help
them focus on the day’s topic.
40. We are the product of our past. Start or end a
class with a thought-provoking document designed to trigger discussion on
a current event.
41. Assign students a primary source on the next unit
of study. Assign questions on the source designed to stimulate student
interest and curiosity.
42. Introduce a lesson with one or two primary
sources. Have students generate a list of questions about the upcoming
topic of instruction suggested by the documents.
43. Use contemporary primary sources to focus
attention on an historical period (for example, use an article on
marijuana as a springboard into an exploration of Prohibition.
44. Prepare an analysis wall. Use masking tape to
attach a few images on a new topic to the blackboard or whiteboard. Give
the students some chalk or a marker and ask them to record their
impressions of the documents. Allow time for the students to look at and
think about the images. Use their comments as the basis for a class
discussion of the documents.
The historian collects evidence
45. Have students search for visual documents on one
topic (e.g. fashions, propaganda, Prohibition, free trade, role of women,
war, personalities, technology, working class, native people, ethnic
groups, injustice) and use them to prepare a timeline mural. Each
illustration should be labeled with a key question.
46. Select a group of primary sources dealing with a
common theme and create a gallery walk in your classroom. Have students
circulate around the room until they have had a chance to study each of
the sources. Lead a class discussion to find out what the students have
learned about the topic. You could also create a stations approach in
which groups of documents are placed on tables around the room and
students circulate from table to table until they have seen all of the
47. Ask students to select primary source documents
to use for a history fair, bulletin board or museum display on an
historical topic. Make sure the display has a common theme or thesis which
highlights the most important point to be drawn from the primary sources.
The title and subheadings should support the thesis and provoke interest
in the topic.
48. Have students put together a collection of
Canadian primary sources from 1900 to 1970 that focus on Britain and the
United States. Ask the students to use the sources to create a collage
depicting Canadian attitudes towards these two countries over time.
Students should come up with a catchy title for their collection and
include some questions to help the viewer focus on the changes over
49. Divide your class into two groups. Have one group
prepare a display to support the Liberal position and one to support the
Conservative position during the 1911 election, the December 1917
election, the Winnipeg General Strike, the flag debate, NAFTA etc.
captions to go under each source.
50. Have a group of five students select First World
War or Second World War posters and memorabilia to use in creating a
recruitment booth aimed at getting men and women to join the armed forces.
The rest of the class should role play potential recruits. These students
could role play an unemployed person, a high school graduate, a longtime
resident of Canada, a newly married person, a veteran of the First World
War, a married person with two young children, a recent immigrant from the
United Kingdom, a Canadian of Jewish or Polish origin, a monarchist, a
recent immigrant from Germany, a French Canadian, a native person, a
farmer, a munitions plant worker, a Quaker, a peace activist etc. Have the
students role play the drama between the people manning the booth and the
potential recruits. The recruiters and the potential recruits may want to change
The historian analyses evidence and makes
51. Assign a set of different types of primary
sources on the same event. To what extent do the sources agree on what
happened? disagree? Suggest reasons for the differences. Divide the class
into four groups. Have the students in each group discuss their answers to
these questions. Ask each group to present their observations to the whole
52. All people who leave a record of an event are
unintentionally influenced by their life experiences (biases). A person’s
age, sex, occupation, religion, culture, ethnic background, socioeconomic
situation, location, influence of family and friends, education, beliefs,
values, interests, concerns etc. all shape his or her point of view.
Biases are revealed by such things as a person’s position or role in
history, use of emotionally charged or loaded words, exaggeration,
one-sidedness, and opinions stated as facts. Ask students to examine five
different types of primary sources dealing with one topic for clues that
help identify each creator’s point of view. Have them state the point of
view for each source and support their interpretation with evidence from
53. Select five or more political cartoons on one
topic. Can you detect any biases in the cartoons (political, religious,
economic, gender, vocational, national/regional/local, ethnic, age,
historical influences etc.)? Whose interests are served by each of the
cartoons? Support your conclusions by referring to the cartoon
54. Ask students to apply the “time and place rule”
and “bias rule” to a set of primary source documents and use them to
assess the reliability of the documents. Have them rate the documents from
the most reliable to the least reliable and be prepared to support their
The time and place rule says that the closer in time
and place a source and its creator were to an event in the past, the
better the source will be. Based on the time and place rule, better
primary sources (starting with the most reliable) might include:
traces of an event
- accounts of
the event, created at the time by firsthand observers and participants
- accounts of
the event, created after the event by firsthand observers and
- accounts of
the event, created after the event by people who did not participate in
the event, but who used interviews or evidence from the time of the
The bias rule says that every source is biased in
some way. Documents tell us only what the creator of the document thought
happened, or perhaps wants us to think happened. As a result, historians
follow these guidelines when they review evidence from the past:
- every piece
of evidence and every source must be viewed skeptically and critically
- no piece of
evidence should be taken at face value; consider the creator’s point of
- each source
and piece of evidence must be cross-checked with related data.
55. Provide students with ten different types of
primary sources on a single topic. Using the BC History 12 test for
reliability stated below, have them rank order the sources from the most
reliable to the least reliable.
Test for reliability for primary sources (the truth
and significance of the document)
Is it in
accord with known facts?
corroborated by other documents? Are they reliable?
When was the
Was he/she in
a position to know?
the capability to form a judgment?
Was he/she a
disinterested observer, or did he/she have an agenda?
have any unconscious bias?
56. Select five primary sources exhibiting different
points of view on a particular issue and have students arrange them in
prohibition: favouring prohibition to opposing prohibition
tariff: favouring the tariff to opposing the tariff
- First World
War: favouring the war to opposing the war
suffrage: favouring women’s suffrage to opposing women’s suffrage
conscription: least biased to most biased
Depression: left wing to right wing responses
foreign policy: favouring isolationism to favouring imperialism.
to support the reasons for your arrangement.
57. Select five primary sources dealing with the Riel
Rebellion. Have students prepare a set of questions that prosecution
lawyers would want to ask a witness at Riel’s trial. Have them prepare a
separate list of questions that the defence lawyers would ask about each
document when cross-examining the same witness. Better yet, have your
students conduct a mock trial of Louis Riel. Have the prosecution and
defence lawyers introduce at least one primary source per witness. See The Riel
Rebellion: A Biographical Approach and The Riel
Rebellion: A Biographical Approach. A Teacher’s Guide for details on
how to conduct a mock trial.
58. Select five or more different types of primary
sources from the time period you are studying. Remove the citations. Ask
the students to analyze the sources, place them in chronological order and
determine who created them. Students should be able to defend their
conclusions using evidence from each of the documents.
59. Give each student or group of students a
different primary source dealing with the same topic. Have the students
analyze the document (what, where, when, who, why and how?). Have the
students report their findings to the whole class. Invite questions and
comments from the class. Students could also make their presentations in
the form of a skit, debate, PowerPoint presentation, display, pamphlet or
60. To introduce students to a Begbie Essay Question
(BEQ), prepare key questions to go with each document in the set. These
scaffolding questions should help the students answer the main question
posed by the BEQ.
61. Ask students to prepare some scaffolding
questions to go with a BEQ.
62. Have students assume the roles of the different
historical figures found in a painting or photograph and act out what they
think happened before, during and after the event portrayed. Have one
member of the class interview the different figures.
63. For a set of BEQs have the students research and
prepare a timeline of relevant historical events that took place before,
during or after the issue addressed in the documents. The events should be
designed to help place the documents in their historical context. It is
said that all primary sources show traces of their own times. Ask students
to find evidence from each source to support this statement.
64. Select five or more political cartoons on one
topic. Describe your emotional reaction to each of the cartoons. How did
the cartoonist trigger your emotional reaction?
65. Have students prepare a bulletin board, collage
or web site contrasting “The Good Old Days” of the 1920s and 1930s, for
example, with “Nowadays.” You can search the section “Questions Using
Primary Sources” by decades using the search terms *1920s,*1930s etc. to
find suitable primary sources.
66. Select a group of primary sources on one topic.
Select the sources so that an equal number come from different regions of
Canada; or represent different time periods; or represent different
political parties; or represent different economic interests (labour and
business; lower, middle or upper class); or represent different national
interests etc. (multiple perspectives). Ask the class to sort the sources
into different regions, chronological order, political affiliations,
economic interests etc. and be prepared to justify their
67. Select one poster. Explain how the artist used
colour, words, images, symbols and the arrangement of items to produce a
specific reaction in the viewer.
68. Study one photograph of an historical event. What
was the creator’s purpose in taking this photograph? (Look at the subject,
colour, gestures, perspective, framing, distance, space and symbolism for
69. War posters usually appeal to national values,
domestic unity or the nobility of the allies, or intimidate though direct
threat. Study the posters shown in the Begbie contests. Categorize them
according to these criteria, giving the reasons for each of your
decisions. Are there any that do not fit into these categories? If so,
make up a new category for these posters.
70. Study a Begbie Essay Question. Rate the primary
sources in terms of their reliability and usefulness in writing about a
topic. Which sources were the most useful? the least? Explain.
The historian selects evidence
71. Prepare a Remembrance Day display case of primary
sources to recognize those who served in the Canadian armed forces in
peacekeeping and in war.
72. Have students study the primary sources contained
in one year of the Begbie Canadian History Contest. Ask them to select
three primary sources they think the authors of their textbook should
include in the next edition of the book, and give reasons for their
selection. Discuss with students why different people chose different
points of view.
73. Study a painting, political cartoon and
illustration all dealing with the same topic. Write a paragraph on the
similarities and differences between the three records. If you were able
to use only one of the three to include in a book, which one would you
74. Ask students to decide on five major turning
points in the 19th or 20th century and find an appropriate primary source
dealing with the event. Students should be prepared to defend their choice
of turning points and primary sources. You could also ask students to
select the five most important people, major achievements or major
disappointments in the last two centuries.
75. Divide the class into small groups. Give each
group twenty primary sources on one topic. Tell them that they are on an
editorial board which has to choose five sources to illustrate an upcoming
textbook on the topic. The students should be prepared to justify their
selection. Have each group present and defend their choices to the rest of
76. All history is selective. Historians cannot tell
you everything that happened. For example, a historian preparing a book of
political cartoons can select from literally millions of cartoons but ends
up using a few hundred or less. Find a book of political cartoons in the
library, such as Great Canadian Political Cartoons 1915 to 1945.
What criteria did the author(s) use in selecting political cartoons for
inclusion in the book?
77. Ask students to prepare a slide show of primary
sources to illustrate music from a specific time period. Teachers may want
to do this themselves to introduce a new unit.
78. Ask students to prepare a desktop documentary on
an historical topic and post it on YouTube. Have the students write a
paragraph on what they learned about about history, and especially the
selection process, from making their desktop documentary. Have the rest of
the class view and critique the documentary.
79. “Each time a girl opens a book and reads a
womanless history, she learns she is worth less.” (Ladker, 1995) Have the
authors of your textbook done a good, reasonable, or poor job of including
such groups as women, native people, ethnic minorities or members of the
The historian organizes and interprets evidence
80. Prepare a set of primary sources which illustrate
the importance of interpretation in writing history. Give each pair of
students a primary source dealing with an important election issue. Have
one student interpret the document from a Conservative point of view, and
the other from a Liberal point of view (or NDP, Bloc Québécois, or Green).
Then have each interpret the document from the opposing point of view. Do
the same for sources reflecting other points of view, e.g. male/female,
Western Canada/Central Canada, business/working class,
Protestant/Catholic, native/non-native, old/young etc.
81. Use the Begbie short answer question that
accompanies two or more primary sources to spark a class discussion. You
can use the Begbie essay question to do the same thing.
82. Pick five or more different types of primary
sources from the time period you are studying. Have students develop a
thesis statement which includes supporting evidence from all five sources.
Discuss the documents in order of the most supportive to the least
supportive of the thesis.
83. Provide students with several different visual
documents dealing with the same subject or time period, e.g. a photograph,
painting, sculpture, advertisement, poster, cartoon, map, postcard, book
cover, illustration or graph. All of these documents have a creator with a
point of view. Ask the students to show how the creator’s point of view is
revealed by the choice of pose, perspective, framing, distance, language,
subject and purpose, and what was included or excluded. Which source did
the students find the most credible and reliable?
84. Ask students to prepare a briefing paper for the
prime minister at the beginning of the Boer War, the Conscription crisis
of 1917, the Winnipeg general strike, the On-to-Ottawa trek, the October
crisis of 1970 or the debate on the Kyoto Accord. Provide students with a
set of documents on one of the topics. Ask them to analyze the primary
sources and propose at least two courses of action for the prime minister
and cabinet to consider.
85. For one of the Begbie Essay Questions (BEQ) place
each of the documents on index cards. Distribute the cards to groups of
two or three students. Each group must then create a statement to support
their position on the topic to the rest of the class.
86. Have students use a set of BEQ documents and
sources found in the library and/or on the internet to prepare for a panel
discussion on the topic. Students on the panel should support different
sides of the issue.
87. Provide students with a set of BEQ documents. The
first time you use these documents with a class, have the students read
the first document and form a temporary hypothesis designed to answer the
assigned question. Have students refine or revise their hypothesis based
on their study of each subsequent primary source. You could also have
students study the documents on an individual basis and compare their
88. “History can be written in one thousand ways.”
Select one political cartoon. Ask the students to interpret the cartoon in
a variety of ways using major Canadian philosophies of history (good
versus evil, struggle for survival, rise and fall of civilizations,
progress, colony to nation, Empire of the St. Lawrence, metropolitanism,
growth of freedom, biographies of great persons, oppressor versus
oppressed etc.). Use this approach with other types of primary
89. Find a primary source that expands on or
contradicts a statement in the student textbook. Ask students to defend or
refute conclusions drawn by the textbook’s author and search for
additional documents that support their conclusions.
The historian writes a history
90. Discuss the difference between primary and
secondary sources with your class. Provide your students with the
documents from the Begbie Essay Question (BEQ) on the Komagata Maru
the students into groups of four and give each group a large sheet of
paper and a felt pen. Ask half of the groups to justify the position of
the federal government with respect to the people aboard the Komagata
Maru, and ask the remaining groups to justify the position of the people
aboard the Komagata Maru who wanted to settle in Canada.
students present and discuss their findings.
students read pp. 15–19 in Canada in a Changing World
History (Desmond Morton), then pose this question: Was the author of
the text fair in his description of immigration to Canada in the early
part of the century? Ask the students to support their position with
specific reference to the various documents handed out and to the
textbook. (suggested by Ed Harrison)
91. Provide students with a time capsule containing a
variety of primary sources produced during a limited time period. Ask them
to write a short essay describing what they learned about the time period
from studying the documents. Have them compare their conclusions with the
interpretation found in their textbook.
92. Have students study the BEQ dealing with women’s
struggle for the franchise and write an essay on the topic. Have the
students compare their interpretation with a textbook account of the same
issue. Discuss the similarities and differences. (You could do the same
thing for most of the BEQs.)
93. Using a set of BEQ documents on a limited topic,
ask students to prepare oral reports on the topic. Their presentations
should have a thesis.
94. Give the students five to ten documents centered
on the life of one person. Ask the students to prepare an obituary or
eulogy on the person based on the documents. The article should refer to
the person and his or her impact on Canadian history.
95. Select sets of primary source documents which
students can use in preparing a “heritage minute” documentary. Have them
show the rest of the class their documents and documentary. Have class
members critique each presentation.
96. Give groups of students a set of documents on a
common theme or issue. Ask them to use the documents as inspiration for
writing and performing a short skit or dramatic production designed to
interest the class in the topic addressed by the documents. If the
students prefer, they could use the documents as a basis for a short
article on the issue for submission to Wikipedia.
97. Using a set of BEQs, have a class debate from the
point of view of the people at the time. Have the class discuss how
choosing a contemporary point of view on the same topic might affect the
outcome of the debate.
98. Using a set of BEQ documents or a set of
documents on another event or theme, have students prepare an editorial,
letter to the editor, political cartoon, poster, pamphlet or other
illustration on the issue addressed by the documents that might have been
written or produced at the time of the controversy (e.g. the potlatch,
Komagata Maru incident, Prohibition, women’s suffrage, Berlin/Kitchener
controversy, Battle of Ypres, end of Prohibition, bathing suits, bilingual
currency, Jewish immigration, Cold War, Avro Arrow, flag debate, Amchitka
nuclear test, discrimination).
99. Have students examine a number of leaflets,
pamphlets, advertisements, posters, or paintings etc. from Canadian
history. Ask them to list the characteristics of a well-designed item, and
design a similar item on a contemporary or historical topic.
100. Have students write an essay on a Canadian
historical topic (e.g. the CPR, the Alaska boundary dispute, the
Conscription crisis of 1917, relief camps during the Depression, the
changing role of women in the 20th century, the October crisis etc.),
making use of some of the Begbie contest primary sources.
101. Study one painting of an historical
event. An original work of art is a personal interpretation. Describe the
artist’s interpretation. What other ways are there of showing this event
or scene? If possible find another artist’s depiction of the same event
and compare the two paintings.