CM . . .
. Volume XXII Number 2. . . .September 11, 2015
These books are amazing. I have never seen books written for elementary students that so clearly explain and illustrate both how to evaluate sources of information and why we need to think critically about the sources we are using.
History is the vehicle for the skills being developed, but these books are not meant as reference books for history or social studies content primarily. If you need them, you probably already have good books on these four historical events. But you are unlikely to have any books at the elementary level that teach your students the information skills of analyzing primary sources and thinking critically about how and why the evidence was created, preserved and interpreted then and now.
Repeatedly, the series makes the point that, if we don’t learn from the past, we are doomed to repeat it. These books will help your students not just learn about the past, but learn from the past. Did I say they are amazing?
The series, “Uncovering the Past: Analysing Primary Sources”, uses eye-witness accounts, photographs, art work, illustrations, and newspaper reports, as well as songs of the period, to teach students how to think critically about their sources of information. Each book ends with a look at a present-day example of similar events, as evidence, sadly, that history does repeat.
Written by four different authors, the books in the “Uncovering the Past: Analysing Primary Sources” have clearly had a production team that has maintained a common look and feel and quality. Although the historic events may not match the curriculum of your History/Social Studies courses, identifying bias, prejudice, and perspective, and learning to examine more than one source of information are critical skills for students of the information age. Most importantly, the critical thinking and evaluating skills taught by looking at the records from the past are highly transferable to other research topics. For example:
Each book in the series begins with an introduction to the historic topic of the book, giving a context to the documents and artifacts that will be presented as source material. The initial chapter in each book also presents an explanation for why we need to learn about the past.
The books then look at different types of evidence, giving examples of types of primary source material, and the distinction between primary and secondary source material. Each book then examines a different aspect of analyzing the evidence. Immigration, for example, looks at “The importance of analyzing and interpreting photographs and other sources: how historians interpret the evidence they have at hand.” Civil Rights looks more closely at “Interpreting and analyzing written and visual evidence and the role of bias; how prejudice can be revealed; analyzing the media.”
The final chapter in each book looks at a modern day example of the historical content of the book. In The Underground Railroad, the final chapter examines “How slavery and human trafficking still exist today in the world, and what is being done to combat them; the tragedy of North Korea.”
Each book includes a table of contents, a timeline of events which includes a map, a bibliography including quotation references, a glossary and an index.
Also included in each book are “Internet Guidelines” with questions such as, “Who writes and/or sponsors the page? Is it an expert in the field, a person who experienced the event, or just a person with an opinion?” That feature alone makes these books invaluable.
Civil Rights looks at evidence from both sides of the Civil Rights movement in the United States to examine how evidence from the time of an event can be influenced by prejudices and circumstances.
Immigration examines how we learn about the human face of immigration from items such as passports, immigration documents, transportation tickets, photographic records, and newspaper articles.
The Holocaust” looks at the danger of bias and the importance of understanding context when analyzing source materials. Although this topic is frequently portrayed in literature and media for students this age, the evidence presented in this book may need more adult guidance than the other books.
The Underground Railroad looks at slave auction posters, diagrams of slave ships, excerpts from the writing of former slaves, maps from the time, and a new technology at the time - photographs. Readers examine how information about the same event can be presented differently depending on the point of view of the person recording or reporting the evidence.
In each book, regardless of the topic, students learn how to examine evidence critically and to think independently. You can’t ask for much more from any book.
Having presented my opinion that the books in “Uncovering the Past: Analyzing Primary Sources” are amazing and the skills developed are easily transferable to other topics, I recommend that you buy the books in paperback and hope that Crabtree will extend the series to include topics that more easily ‘fit’ into Canadian school curricula. Perhaps the next books can deal with an analysis of primary source material collected from the Halifax explosion of 1917, when the collision of two ships in Halifax Harbour resulted in the world’s largest human caused explosion before the nuclear age. Or perhaps a book about the sinking of the Titanic with its Canadian connection.
And perhaps the covers of later books in this series can be redesigned to more prominently display the series title, “Uncovering the Past: Analyzing Primary Sources”, and reduce the individual book titles to a less prominent size and position so that these books are recognized as valuable skill development teaching tools, not just another book about history. They will be overlooked in purchasing and underused in your library collection if they are not more clearly identified.
For now, buy these books to help your students learn how to learn from history, not just about history.
Suzanne Pierson is a retired teacher-librarian, currently instructing Librarianship courses at Queen’s University in Kingston, ON.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.