Essay About History Subject Clip

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1. What Has Mystery Got to Do with It?

Ruth Sandwell and John Sutton Lutz


Should history be playful? Fun to do? If it should be, at least as presented in secondary schools, it is not. Most students would be sympathetic to James Joyce, who said, “History is a nightmare from which I must awake!”[1] In our enthusiasm to cover the syllabus, to show the big picture, the vast canvas of history, we have squeezed both the fun and the fascination out. To go from “Plato to NATO” we take the flesh from the stories and deliver only the skeleton.[2] Typically, we ask students to commit this to memory and regurgitate it at exam time instead of teaching the detective work—the critical skills of the historian applied to evidence from the past. The most able teachers have shown us for centuries that we can make history engaging while we teach its most important lessons. Now, as we are able to explore the affinities between game-based learning and the goals and tools of history teaching, we have some new tools at our disposal to make history “playful.”

In a 2006 article, Richard Van Eck argued that it is time that discussions about digital game-based learning (DGBL) move beyond research that has, by this point, already convincingly demonstrated its efficacy as a place for, or site of, learning.[3] We need to move on now, he argues, to create “research explaining why DGBL is engaging and effective” and to provide “practical guidance for how (when, with whom, and under what conditions) games can be integrated into the learning process to maximize their learning potential.” We take up Van Eck’s challenge to explain and prescribe appropriate uses for history-related games as we explore links between our DGBL history project, the Great Unsolved Mysteries in Canadian History, and recent

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Fig 1.1: Victoria students exploring the “Death on The Kettle Valley Railway” mystery. Great Unsolved Mysteries in Canadian History project. Used with permission.

Fig 1.2: Original homepage of the Great Unsolved Mysteries in Canadian History website. Great Unsolved Mysteries in Canadian History project. Used with permission.

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research and writing about historical thinking and knowing. (See figures 1.1 and 1.2.) More specifically, we draw on two separate academic discussions, one exploring research into the teaching and learning of history in the schools and the other relating to theoretical and methodological developments within the discipline of history itself. We suggest that the intersection, or overlap, of these two areas provides a research- and theory-based explanation for how the Great Unsolved Mysteries in Canadian History project works to include playful elements in the teaching of serious history. In the process, we also help to explain why this online history education project has become so widely used and so critically acclaimed as a way of teaching history.

The History Educators

Recent years have witnessed an increasing amount of research in the field of history education. Educators, long interested in how to teach students to think scientifically, have turned their attention to what constitutes historical thinking, or, in the current parlance, “historical literacy.” There are a number of factors involved in this renewed interest in history education, but perhaps most often cited is the decline of the more general social studies movement in the wake of research documenting students’ staggering historical ignorance about the origin and accomplishments of their own particular nation-state—this in an era of globalization with its increasing unease about the loss of national and religious identity following the end of the Cold War.[4] Notwithstanding clear evidence that nationalism and indeed patriot­ism have been the engines driving often-intense public discussions about the purpose of history education, responses to the recent perceived crisis of historical understanding have been varied.[5]

Conservatives have lobbied unapologetically, and sometimes successfully, for a highly partisan, nationalistic “return to basics” move within schools and museums,[6] but there has been a significant movement in quite another direction as well: history researchers and educators alike are encouraging students to do their own “document analysis”—the interpretation of original historical or archaeological evidence from the past—as an important pillar of history education.

Their motives have varied. Many teachers and public historians (in museums, heritage villages, and other historical sites and monuments) have discovered that students are simply more interested in history, and seem to remember more of it for the final exam, when they can actively engage with original historical sources; because it keeps students busy, occupied, and apparently learning, this approach is widely perceived to work as an Page  26educational strategy. As a result, compilations of primary documents along with supporting educational materials have become a major industry, particularly in the United States.[7]

Researchers in the field of history education do not deny that students can be more engaged by working with primary documents, but their strong advocacy of teaching students to use primary documents in the history classroom is not related just to the immediate appeal that working with these documents provides to students. Rather, researchers and theorists in the field of history education tend to share a conviction that, because history essentially is a dialogue among people about the interpretation of evidence left over from the past, then history education must, to be effective, at the very least introduce students to what history is by inviting them to participate actively in the process or practice of what doing history involves.[8] Like the revolutionary science educators of an earlier era, history educators are suggesting that historical knowledge, like scientific knowledge, is not about knowing facts so much as it is about understanding processes. For teachers who see science as a kind of knowledge or process of knowing rather than simply the final product or conclusion, Bunsen burners and the techniques of scientific observation overshadow the memorization of complicated nomenclatures. For teachers who see history as a kind of knowledge or process of knowing, primary documents and the techniques of inquiry-based interpretation overshadow the memorization of events, names, and dates. As Peter Seixas has argued, it is only in this way that students can become truly engaged in the “community of inquiry” that comprises the disciplinary, evidence-based critical inquiry that history is.[9] (See figure 1.3.)

Ken Osborne has pointed out that the idea that students need to “do history” in order to understand history—that is, analyze and interpret primary historical documents—is not new; the history teacher Fred Morrow Fling was actively advocating this practice more than one hundred years ago, and the idea has been an important component of progressive reform in educational circles ever since.[10] The idea may not be new, but research in the field of history education is now documenting just how difficult it is to convey this to students. One of the unanticipated consequences of the increased use of primary documents in the classroom has been research documenting that, engaging as they are, these primary sources cannot on their own be relied on to provide an increased understanding of history. In his well-known 1991 study, Samuel Wineburg asked students and historians to think aloud as they read historical texts, both primary and secondary.[11] He noted that whereas historians entered into a complex dialogue with the multiple meanings of the text, students were generally able to marshal only one question about what they were reading: is it true? With little familiarity

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Fig 1.3: Historical research is like detective work. Image courtesy of the authors.

with primary documents, without the appropriate background knowledge, and without an understanding of the processes of critical inquiry, students were simply not able to engage in constructing historical knowledge from the documents. As Wineburg has argued since, historical thinking really is an “unnatural act” that involves thought processes that are counterintuitive to most students.[12]

Wineburg’s work demonstrates that students need considerable scaffolding if they are to learn to use primary documents to construct knowledge about the past. The research of history educators such as Peter Lee, Ros Ashby, S. G. Grant, Bruce Van Sledright, Keith Barton, Linda Levstik, and Stella Winert has provided considerable evidence about how students as young as age 6 or 7 can successfully be taught the kinds of critical, evidence-based thinking they need to think historically.[13] But it turns out that, left to themselves, students are reluctant to critically engage primary sources. Andrew Milson argues that students using web-based materials regularly sought out the “path of least resistance” when looking for ways of constructing historical knowledge, rather than searching for a more complex understanding.[14] Other research has documented that rather than evaluating information from multiple sources, students using primary documents on the world wide web moved directly to search engines to find sites they thought would give them Page  28all necessary information to accomplish their task[15] as quickly as possible, and in a way that was most likely to meet the approval of the teacher.

Barton’s study of fourth- and fifth-grade American students highlights the problems. His research documented students’ remarkable ability to engage critically with such issues as the contingency of historical narratives and the constructed nature of historical documents. But after students had critically examined the historical documents, Barton discovered “one remarkable and unexpected problem”:

After three days of this [critical inquiry] activity, the teacher pulled students together to discuss their conclusions. . . . Each student had an opinion, and they were eager to share. But none of the opinions had any relationship to the evidence that they had just spent three days evaluating. Students did not use the evidence to reach conclusions; they were just making up what they thought must have happened.[16]

Barton aptly entitled his article “ ‘I just kinda know.’ ” European educators have noted a similar reluctance in their students to bring critical inquiry to bear on history education in the classroom, and new research into levels of historical consciousness and differences between historical knowledge and historical belief is now underway to account for the phenomenon whereby students know about history as critical inquiry, but refuse to take it seriously.[17] Keith Barton and Linda Levstik have argued that the solution to the problem is to be found in the articulation of a coherent purpose for history education, and have found it in history’s unique suitability to provide students with the kind of humanistic education they need to participate in a democratic and pluralistic society. The study of primary documents, they argue, provides an important foundation for the kind of evidence-based reason­ing that members of a participatory democracy need to deliberate on, and make decisions about, their society.[18]

On a slightly different tack, Ruth Sandwell has argued that the problem is essentially epistemological: students do not engage with a critical evaluation of historical evidence because, in spite of what they learn about critical inquiry, they still believe that history really is a set of received truths that they must memorize and tell back to their teachers.[19] Conducting reasoned, educated interpretations of evidence becomes just one more example of busywork in the classroom. And why wouldn’t they? After all, knowing “the facts” rather than understanding the process is what they are most often, and most rigorously, evaluated on. As Peter Lee puts it, if students do not “get” the idea that history is dialogue among people about the interpretation of meaningful evidence about the past, and believe instead that it exists only by Page  29authoritarian fiat or only through the always-flawed accounts of individual eyewitnesses, then it becomes impossible, meaningless, or both, for students to understand history.[20]

The Historians

Historians have changed a lot over the past fifty years. Since the defeat of fascism and the triumph of American modernity, historians have been increasingly rejecting the notion of a single unified narrative of history in favor of histories that are more complex and varied. They have expanded their studies beyond one class, gender, or ethnically defined group, and beyond their earlier, predominant interest in public life and formal political systems. As a result, historians’ research and writing has become much more interdisciplinary, and much less the narrative of “the winners.” This concern with a wider range of peoples and issues in the past has, furthermore, encouraged some historians to take (and admit to) a more active role in contemporary concerns, particularly those involving historical injustices based on gender, class, or ethnicity. They have become much more open about their concerns about contemporary, relevant issues, and the ways in which these contemporary issues have helped to shape their professional interests. As Christopher Dummitt phrased it in his article “Beyond Inclusiveness: The Future of Canadian History,” “by far the largest fields that historians now claim to be affiliated with are those generally associated with inclusive history: social; women and gender; and cultural.”[21]

Dummitt goes on to articulate some of the problems that the new consensus on inclusivity has created, but this is not to diminish the fact that historians have become much more cognizant of the relationship between knowledge and power than they used to be. Not only do they believe that history involves more than the single narrative about the winners in the past, but many historians argue that portraying history as a particular one-dimensional narrative only helps to maintain structures of power within today’s society.[22] These changes are aspects of historians’ growing awareness that their research is more a process of critical inquiry, a kind of knowledge, than it is a series of authoritarian, factual statements, let alone final judgments, about the past. The past is gone, and all historians can do is try to understand some of its meaning and complexity through ongoing discussions about how best to interpret evidence from the past that is meaningful in the present, albeit for a wide variety of reasons.[23] (See figure 1.4.)

In moving beyond the positivism that largely defined nineteenth-century historical writing, historians are openly acknowledging that history is a process

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Fig 1.4: Historians solving historical mysteries at the Playing with Technology in History Unconference, 2010. Image courtesy of the authors.

of critical inquiry, a painfully meticulous process of piecing together—constructing—into a narrative, pieces of evidence about a meaningful past in the context of what other historians have written about. Acknowledging that history is an interpretive act where historians enter into an ongoing dialogue with others about fragmented, contingent evidence from the past has had an important influence not only on what historians study, but on how they present their work. Increasingly, historians are arguing that it is not enough to be more inclusive in who we consider legitimate historical subjects, or how we represent them: our history needs to articulate more clearly the dialogical nature of our work. As historian Lyle Dick has recently argued, historians have identified the need to move beyond a focus on diversity of content toward embracing a greater diversity of form. In this regard, we might consider replacing univocal narratives or harmonized syntheses relying on partial perspectives or evidence with forms incorporating a larger selection of voices and perspectives. Instead of weaving the different strands together into tight narratives, we might be trying to combine different forms, genres, and voices into looser structures. Rather than seeking resolution and coherence, we might be juxtaposing conflicting and even contradictory materials to more accurately represent the contested character of the Canadian past and the actual diversity of perspectives bearing on its interpretation.[24]

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Like history educators, historians are increasingly declaring the importance of the processes of historical practice to good historical thinking. Three decades ago, the craft of conveying the complex interplay of forces was recaptured by European scholars in a method called “micro-storia” or “micro-history.” Micro-history is a return to the story of real people with all the messy, fascinating, sometimes microscopic details of their lives. But the goal in exploring the details is to see the larger forces at work, forces that are invisible when the scope is much larger:

By reducing the scale of observation, it becomes possible to document the ways that particular people work out their lives within a shifting set of patterns—beliefs, practices, relationships—in which they make sense of their own lives, adapting themselves to each other and to their environment, or by changing their environment to suit their society. It is in people’s day-to-day practices that they make the “innumerable and infinitesimal transformations of and within the dominant cultural economy in order to adapt it to their own interests and their own rules.” It is in these practices that microhistorians hope to see and sometimes explain variation and change in history.[25]

Micro-history is the asking of the big questions of history and looking for the answers in small places.[26]

The Great Unsolved Mysteries in Canadian History Project

As we have argued above, history educators and professional historians now agree that understanding history means understanding the dialogical processes involved in interpreting evidence from the past in the context of what others have thought relevant. History is a conversation about interpreting evidence. The project that John Sutton Lutz, Ruth Sandwell, and Peter Gossage established, Great Unsolved Mysteries in Canadian History (, is a web-based history education project that explicitly sets out to introduce students to the unnatural act of doing history. As we described the history of the project in 2009:

When we first imagined the site, we were intrigued by the dissonance between using late 20th century technology to investigate a mid-19th century murder. What John and I had originally liked about the technology was the strange co-incidence between web based technology and late 20th century ideas about history. We felt that the lecture format and the textbook, both first developed in the 19th century Page  32as important ways of teaching history, were used by earlier generations of history teachers because they were particularly well suited to particular 19th century understandings of history. That is, history is “just the facts,” plain and simple; a chronicle of events told in an epic format, with good guys and bad guys (and we mean guys) and a strong, simple and one dimensional plot line. The world wide web, by contrast, was, we thought, particularly well suited to late 20th century ideas of what history is: not a linear, authoritarian declaration by an eminent historian about what “really” happened, but a broader, more inclusive discussion of varied peoples in varied places, discussions that were sensitive to race, class, gender, sexual preference, regional differences. History involves multiple perspectives, ambiguity and dissonance. It also involves some very particular disciplined approaches to evaluating evidence, to building reasoned arguments, and to making persuasive claims about the past.[27]

What we had created was, in effect, a digital game-based learning site where visitors to the site would “do history”: in interacting with the ­materials on the site, they would engage in, or would at least be forced to confront, complex forms of historical thinking as they used the primary documents on the site to come to a reasoned interpretation of the real-life historical mystery they were presented with in each of the twelve mysteries.

The premise of the Great Unsolved Mysteries in Canadian History project is simple. Take an intriguing mystery—a story that has no single, clear resolution—put all the kinds and range of evidence you can find on the Internet, and challenge students and others to solve the mystery. In fact, we provide the first part of the story and the tools for students to write the ending. The method is micro-historical so the mysteries are not random. They involve some of the big issues that concern historians: race, gender, ethnicity, immigration, religious intolerance, terrorism, war, climate change, aboriginal–­non-aboriginal relations, wrongful convictions, and child abuse, to name a few.

Between 1997 and 2008 the project created twelve mystery websites, each available in their entirety in French and English. Each website is a multi­media archive based on the particular mystery, with dozens and even hundreds of documents, each totaling about 100,000 words of text, along with dozens of images; several have oral interviews, 3D re-creations, and video. They range from some of the big questions (where was the Viking Vinland and why did it not survive?) through the burning of Montreal in 1734, an Indian war of the 1860s, to mysterious deaths and murders, including that of the well-known artist Tom Thompson and the Canadian diplomat hounded by the CIA, Herbert Norman. These are great mysteries, not because they

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Fig 1.5: One of the MysteryQuests focused on the mysterious death of the child Aurore in rural Quebec in 1920. Great Unsolved Mysteries in Canadian History project. Used with permission.

are famous, but because of the amazing access they give us to the lives and issues of real people facing dramatic and often violent crises.

To provide the necessary pedagogical support for the mysteries, an educational director (Ruth Sandwell) was appointed to create materials for teachers and students interested in developing and refining the techniques of primary source document analysis. These include introductory lessons for interpreting historical evidence complete with teachers’ notes and fully developed unit plans comprising several lessons and support materials for teachers and students. We also created an entire MysteryQuests website ( that contains thirty-nine student-focused and age-specific lesson plans that pertain to the individual mysteries. Other forms of teacher and student support (see the Teachers’ Corner for each of the mystery sites) make it easier to use the mysteries to teach history within elementary, secondary, and even university classrooms. (See, for example, figure 1.5.)

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Fig 1.6: One of the webpages on the “Where was Vinland?” mystery site. Great Unsolved Mysteries in Canadian History project. Used with permission.

Further testing is needed to confirm exactly how and to what extent the sites work at conveying new ways of thinking about and doing history, but our preliminary studies indicate some success in providing willing viewers both the raw materials of an engaging micro-historical mystery, and the intellectual and pedagogical support to interpret them.

The mysteries take two forms. Some of them present a historical puzzle for the student to solve. Others take a crime, or a mysterious death that might have been a crime, and invite the student in as a detective-historian. In some cases, the students find themselves absolving convicted murderers they believe were wrongly convicted and hanged in a travesty of justice. In others, they identify potential murderers who have walked free. All the mysteries were chosen because there is no single “correct” solution. In all cases, students are assembling a narrative out of a diverse, unordered, and sometimes contradictory set of evidence, and having to make the case that their solution is more plausible than the alternatives.

Let us give an example of the first type, “Where was Vinland?” chronologically the first in our series. (See figure 1.6.) All of our websites were created

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Fig 1.7: Inside one of the 3D reconstructions of L’Anse Aux Meadows dwelling on the Vinland site. Great Unsolved Mysteries in Canadian History project. Used with permission.

by leading scholars in the field who, in most cases, pitched the mysteries to the directors in a national competition. In this case, the research director, archaeologist Birgitta Wallace, had spent her entire career studying the Norse in North America and is acknowledged to be one of the world’s experts. Only one Viking-era settlement site has been documented in North America at L’Anse Aux Meadows, in northern Newfoundland, and it does not seem to coincide with the description from the Viking stories, or sagas, which identifies Vinland as the “Land of Grapes.” The site where Europe first met America is of global significance. Proponents locate Vinland in many places between Rhode Island and Labrador. So the website presents all the saga evidence and virtually all the archaeological evidence of Vikings in North America; extensive cultural and linguistic evidence from the Norsemen of the era so we can learn what “grapes” or wine might have been to them; and the flora and climate in eastern North America in 1000 c.e. It also examines the prominent Viking hoaxes. We know so much about the extensively excavated and documented L’Anse Aux Meadows site that we were able to create a 3D immersive environment for students to explore as well as scan many of the key artifacts in 3D and present them virtually on the website. A hint: the butternut root fragment is a significant piece of the puzzle. (See figure 1.7.)

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The other type of mystery, based on a crime, offers students the chance to play the ever-popular role of detective, or crime scene investigator, which, as it turns out, is very analogous to that of the historian.[28] But where detectives are often satisfied when they have identified the immediate cause of death and the specific perpetrator, the historian is even more interested in the context that created the crime and the contributing causes. The mystery “Who Killed William Robinson? Race, Justice, and Settling the Land,” which was the first one launched, is an example. When three black men were killed in 1867–68 in the small farming settlements on Salt Spring Island between Vancouver Island and Vancouver, native people were widely blamed. Only one of these murders, that of William Robinson, resulted in a conviction, and in that case an aboriginal man named Tshuanahusset was hanged. A closer look at all the cases suggests the possibility that it was easy to blame and convict a native person at that time when they could not speak the language of the courts and were widely seen as savages. The jury deliberated a full five minutes before Tshuanahusset was convicted on flimsy and conflicting circumstantial evidence, and his alibi was overlooked. When one explores motive, the case starts to point to members of the settler community who later are associated with a series of questionable activities relating to Robinson’s valuable waterfront property. The case is not just a “who-dunnit?” but an opening into the whole process of settlement of British Columbia, the dispossession of aboriginal people, the role of black settlers, and the question of whether justice was possible in such a race-based society. In this case, like Vinland and the other ten cases, small mysteries open up big questions.

Playful has proven popular. Every day, on average, more than 2,000 ­students use the website. Last year there were more than 800,000 user sessions, primarily in Canada and the United States but also in 50 countries around the world. The project has been extensively peer-reviewed (see and it has won major prizes in the field. In 2008 the series won the award for the best online teaching resource in history from the MERLOT network and the Pierre Berton award from the National History Society of Canada for exemplary work in the dissemination of history. We continue to work on the project and a new mystery on the lost Franklin expedition is due to be launched in 2015.

The success of the project stems from the convergence described above: new ideas in historical pedagogy that support the active engagement of the learner at the center; new models of how historical thinking develops, particularly through primary source evidence relating to a micro-historical problem; a new technological format that provides both the fertile ground where a rich body of evidence can be accumulated, displayed, and widely accessed and the pedagogical scaffolding that allows visitors to research and analyze the evidence within online multimedia archives. Bringing these threads together,

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Fig 1.8: Artist’s reconstruction of the crime scene in the William Robinson case. Great Unsolved Mysteries in Canadian History project. Used with permission.

the Great Unsolved Mysteries in Canadian History project shows that the fascinating stories from the past can be used as a window to engage students in the big questions of then and now. Much more research is needed to examine the ways in which site visitors actually use the mysteries to build their historical understanding, and to test and refine the pedagogical support available on the site. But so far, the project seems to be providing just one more example of how learning history can be serious and playful at the same time.

A Full List of the Mysteries Available on The Great Unsolved Mysteries in Canadian History Website

Where is Vinland?

Use archaeological, historical, climatic, and environmental clues with a new 3D reconstruction to solve one of the most intriguing mysteries in world history: where did Europe first meet America?

Torture and the Truth: Angélique and the Burning of Montreal

When Montreal caught fire in April 1734, suspicion fell on a Black slave called Marie Angélique. But did she really start the fire?

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Life and Death in the Arctic: The Mystery of the Franklin Expedition

In 1845 2 ships with 110 men, the elite of the British Navy, set off from England to find the Northwest Passage and were never seen again. [To be launched in spring 2015.]

Jerome: The Mystery Man of Baie Sainte-Marie

On September 8, 1863, a stranger was found on the beach of Sandy Cove in Nova Scotia, alive but with no legs and unable to speak. Who was this “mystery man”?

Who Killed William Robinson? Race, Justice, and Settling the Land

When three Black men were murdered in the space of eighteen months around 1868 on bucolic Salt Spring Island in British Columbia, alarm bells went off. An Aboriginal man was hanged, but was he guilty?

We Do Not Know His Name: Klatsassin and the Chilcotin War

As dawn broke on April 30, 1864, some twenty-five Tsilhqot’in men surprised the sleeping camp of a crew building a road to the Cariboo gold mines, killing fourteen. Was this war?

Heaven and Hell on Earth: The Massacre of the “Black” Donnellys

In 1880 the Donnelly farm in Ontario was burned to the ground and five family members were murdered. No one was ever found guilty of the crimes despite considerable evidence. Why?

Who Discovered Klondike Gold?

For a century, controversy has swirled around the question of who deserves credit for the discovery that set off the greatest gold rush in the history of the world. You be the judge!

The Redpath Mansion Mystery

Who killed Ada Redpath and her son in their Montreal mansion in 1901? Find out what really happened as you look into the lives of the rich and famous in their elite neighborhood.

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Death on a Painted Lake: The Tom Thomson Tragedy

Investigate the mysterious 1917 death of artist Tom Thomson. Was his drowning accidental?

Aurore! The Mystery of the Martyred Child

The corpse of a young girl was found in a quiet Quebec village in 1920. What is the story behind this tragic case, and why does it still haunt the collective memory of the Québécois?

Explosion on the Kettle Valley Line: The Death of Peter Verigin

An explosion on a train killed the leader of the pacifist Doukhobor religious community in Castlegar, British Columbia, in 1924. Investigate the many theories about who did it. Accident or murder?

Death of a Diplomat: Herbert Norman and the Cold War

What would persuade the Canadian ambassador to Egypt to jump from a Cairo building in 1957?


This website consists of thirty-nine interactive, user-friendly lessons designed for use by individuals working alone or with a partner; suggestions for adapting these resources for use by an entire class are found in the teacher notes attached to each MysteryQuest.


1. James Joyce, Ulysses, episode 2: Nestor, accessed July 31, 2012,

2. Ruth Sandwell, “School History vs. the Historians,” International Journal of Social Education 30, no. 1 (Spring 2005): 9–17.

3. Richard Van Eck, “Digital Game-Based Learning: It’s Not Just the Digital Natives Who are Restless,” Educause Review 41, no. 2 (March–April 2006): 16–30, accessed February 10, 2011,

4. See Margaret McMillan’s Uses and Abuses of History (Toronto: Penguin, 2009) for a recent articulation of the relationship between the revival of interest in history Page  40and the end of the Cold War. See also Ken Osborne, “Teaching History in Schools: A Canadian Debate,” Journal of Curriculum Studies 35, no. 5 (2003): 585–626; and Peter Seixas, “Parallel Crises: History and the Social Studies Curriculum in the USA,” Journal of Curriculum Studies 25 (1993): 235–50.

5. See, for example, Tony Taylor, “Disputed Territory: The Politics of Historical Consciousness in Australia,” in Theorizing Historical Consciousness, ed. Peter Seixas (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2004), 217–39. For a discussion of Canadian reflections on history and history education over the past generation, see Ruth Sandwell, “ ‘We were allowed to disagree, because we couldn’t agree on anything’: Seventeen Voices in the Canadian Debates over History Education,” in History Wars and the Classroom: Global Perspectives, ed. Tony Taylor and Robert Guyver (Charlotte, N.C.: Information Age Publishing, 2012), 51–76; Anna Clark and Stuart Macintyre, The History Wars (Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 2003); for comparative perspectives, see Tony Taylor and Robert Guyver, eds., History Wars and the Classroom: Global Perspectives (Charlotte, N.C.: Information Age Publishing, 2012); Anna Clark, “Teaching the Nation’s Story: Comparing Public Debates and Classroom Perspectives of History Education in Australia and Canada,” Journal of Curriculum Studies 41, no. 6 (2009): 745–62; and Anna Clark, History’s Children: History Wars in the Classroom (Sydney: University of New South Wales Press, 2008).

6. For the way this was worked out in the American context, see Linda Symcox, Whose History?: The Struggle for National Standards in American Classrooms (New York: Teachers College Press, 2002).

7. For an overview of the practical problems and consequences of using primary documents in the classroom, see Keith Barton, “Primary Sources in History: Breaking Through the Myths,” Phi Delta Kappan 86, no. 10 (June 2005): 745–53; Ruth Sandwell, “History is a Verb: Teaching Historical Practice to Teacher Education Students,” in New Possibilities for the Past: Shaping History Education in Canada, ed. Penny Clark (Vancouver: UBC Press, 2011), 224–42.

8. See, for example, Peter Seixas, “A Modest Proposal for Change in Canadian History Education,” Teaching History 137 (December 2009): 26–32; idem, “What is Historical Consciousness?” in To the Past: History Education, Public Memory and Citizenship Education in Canada,ed. Ruth Sandwell(Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2006), 11–22; Ken Osborne, “Teaching History in Schools: A Canadian Debate,” Journal of Curriculum Studies 35, no. 5 (2003): 585–626. There is a large and growing literature on this, which is perhaps best summarized in Keith Barton and Linda Levstik’s Teaching History for the Common Good (Mahwah, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2004). These issues are expanded in the Canadian context most recently in Penney Clark, ed., New Possibilities for the Past: Shaping History Education in Canada (Vancouver: UBC Press, 2011).

9. Peter Seixas, “The Community of Inquiry as a Basis for Knowledge and Learning: The Case of History,” American Educational Research Journal 30, no. 2 (1993): 305–24.

10. Ken Osborne, “Fred Morrow Fling and the Source Method of Teaching History,” Theory and Research in Social Education 71 (2003): 466–501.

11. Samuel Wineburg, “On the Reading of Historical Texts: Notes on the Breach Between School and Academy,” American Educational Research Journal 28, no. 3 (1991): 495–519.

12. Samuel Wineburg, “Historical Thinking and Other Unnatural Acts,” Phi Delta Kappan 80, no. 7 (March 1999): 488–500.

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13. S. G. Grant and Bruce Van Sledright, Constructing a Powerful Approach to Teaching and Learning in Elementary Social Studies (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2001); Jere E. Brophy and Bruce Van Sledright, Teaching History in Elementary Schools (New York: Teachers College Press, 1997); Stella Rose Weinert, “Young Children’s Historical Understanding” (MA thesis, University of British Columbia, 2001); Peter Lee, “Putting Principles into Practice: Understanding History,” in How Students Learn: History in the Classroom, ed. M. Suzanne Donovan and John D. Bransford (Washington, D.C.: National Academies Press, 2005), 29–78; Ruth Sandwell, “Reading Beyond Bias: Teaching Historical Practice to Secondary School Students,” McGill Journal of Education 38, no. 1 (Winter 2003): 168–86; Keith C. Barton and Linda S. Levstik, “Why Don’t More History Teachers Engage Students in Interpretation?” Social Education 67, no. 6 (2003): 358–62; Keith C. Barton and Linda S. Levstik, Researching History Education: Theory, Method and Context (New York: Routledge, 2008); Bruce A. Van Sledright, The Challenge of Rethinking History Education (New York: Routledge, 2011).

14. Andrew J. Milson, “The Internet and Inquiry Learning: Integrating Medium and Method in a Sixth Grade Social Studies Classroom,” Theory and Research in Social Education 30 (2002): 330–53.

15. Keith C. Barton, “Inquiry and the Book of James,” paper presented at the annual meeting of the College and University Faculty Assembly, National Council for the Social Studies, Phoenix, Arizona, November 2002.

16. Keith C. Barton, “ ‘I just kinda know’: Elementary Students’ Ideas about Historical Evidence,” in Researching History Education: Theory, Method, and Context,ed. Linda Levstik and Keith Barton (New York: Routledge, 2008), 209–27.

17. James V. Wertsch, “Is It Possible to Teach Beliefs, as Well as Knowledge about History?” and Peter Lee and Rosalyn Ashby, “Progression in Historical Understanding among Students Ages 7–14,” in Knowing, Teaching and Learning History: National and International Perspectives, ed. Peter Stearns, Peter Seixas, and Sam Wineburg (New York: New York University Press, 2000).

18. Barton and Levstik, “Teacher Education and the Purposes of History,” chapter 13 in Teaching History for the Common Good (Mahwah, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2004), 244–65.

19. Sandwell, “Reading Beyond Bias,” 172–74.

20. Peter Lee, “Putting Principles into Practice: Understanding History,” in How Students Learn: History in the Classroom, ed. Suzanne Donovan and John D. Bransford (Washington, D.C.: The National Academic Press, 2005), accessed February 10, 2011,

21. Christopher Dummitt, “Beyond Inclusiveness: The Future of Canadian History,” in Contesting Clio’s Craft: New Directions and Debates in Canadian History,ed. Christopher Dummitt and Michael Dawson (London: Institute for the Americas, 2009), 102.

22. See, for example, Robert F. Berkhofer Jr., “The Challenge of Poetics to (Normal) Historical Practice,” in The Rhetoric of Interpretation and the Interpretation of Rhetoric, ed. Paul Hernadi (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1989), 197.

23. This section has been adapted from Sandwell’s article “School History vs. the Historians,” International Journal of Social Education 30, no. 1 (Spring 2005): 10.

24. Lyle Dick, “Fragmentation and Synthesis from the Standpoint of Critical History,” ActiveHistory, ca. April 26, 2011,, accessed October 25, 2012.

Page  42

25. Ruth W. Sandwell, “History as Experiment: Microhistory and Environmental History,” in Method and Meaning in Canadian Environmental History, ed. Alan McEachern and William Turkel (Toronto: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2008), 123. Quotation from Michel de Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984), xiv.

26. George G. Iggers, “From Macro- to Microhistory: The History of Everyday Life,” in Historiography in the Twentieth Century: From Scientific Objectivity to the Postmodern Challenge (Hanover: Wesleyan University Press, 1997). Two classics of the genre include Carlo Ginzburg, The Cheese and the Worms: The Cosmos of a Sixteenth-Century Miller, trans. John and Anne Tedeschi (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, original in Italian 1976, English translation 1980); and Natalie Zemon Davis, The Return of Martin Guerre (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1983). In the Canadian context, see Ruth W. Sandwell “Introduction: Reading the Rural with a Microhistorical Eye,” in Contesting Rural Space: Land Policy and the Practices of Resettlement on Saltspring Island, 1859–1891 (Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2005), 3–14.

27. Ruth Sandwell, “Reflections on the Great Unsolved Mysteries in Canadian History Project: A Pedagogical Perspective,” Canadian Diversity / Diversité canadienne 7, no. 1 (2009): 88–92.

28. For an excellent book-length examination of just how, exactly, history works when taught as mystery, see David Gerwin and Jack Zevin, Teaching U.S. History as Mystery (New York: Routledge, 2011).

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2. “Why can’t you just tell us?”: Learning Canadian History with the Virtual Historian

Stéphane Lévesque


What do students learn from educational technology? What expertise do digital history applications develop in computer users? Surely, for most educators web entertainment and serious game skills are inadequate answers to these questions—and for sound reasons. For today’s secondary school and university students, technology plays an integral part in their learning experiences.[1] Students are “digital natives” and savvy.[2] No longer does it suffice for a history teacher to present an overhead and have students take notes. No longer is it viable for a museum to count on traditional exhibits to attract new visitors. For Marc Prensky,

Today’s students have not just changed incrementally from those of the past, nor simply changed their slang, clothes, body adornments, or styles, as has happened between generations previously. A really big discontinuity has taken place. One might even call it a “singularity”—­an event which changes things so fundamentally that there is absolutely no going back. This so-called “singularity” is the arrival and rapid dissemination of digital technology in the last decades of the 20th century.[3]

Twenty-first-century students are used to interacting with hypermedia, to downloading music on their cell phones, to consulting a library database on Page  44their laptops, and to beaming instant messages while watching television or playing video games. They are actively involved in social networks and have little patience for classroom lectures, content-driven textbooks, and standard literacy tests. In this period of apparent “discontinuity” with past generations, it may seem futile to have young learners read passages from authorized textbooks or to introduce them to primary sources written in a seemingly “foreign” language from historical actors so distant from their busy, technological lives. From this perspective, the question should no longer be about whetherto use digital technology but rather howto use it to further the acquisition and development of expertise in domains of knowledge.

This chapter addresses some of the fundamental questions of digital technology in education from a disciplinary perspective. Using history as a domain of knowledge, it first reviews the research base related to inquiry-based learning and digital technology in history education. Then, the chapter explores the implications of using technology in the history classroom, focusing on the findings from a study with a digital history program. For the purpose of this study, “digital technology” refers to computer or network-based applications—including online learning programs supporting the teaching and learning of subject matters—whereas “virtual history” means the study and use of the past with digital technology.

Doing History . . . with Technology

History educators have long argued for more authentic forms of history teaching and learning.[4] From the nineteenth-century inquiry ideas of Leo­pold von Ranke through to Fred Morrow Fling’s source methods, progressive historians have believed in a theory of school history anchored in teaching the discipline with inquiry. Meaningful and enduring understanding, from this perspective, is an active and continuous process of knowledge acquisition and (re)construction in light of students’ prior knowledge, understanding, and engagement with the discipline.[5] In history education, several studies have documented the futility of storytelling and textbook-centered instruction on students’ historical learning.[6] Instead, they have pointed to the necessity of engaging students actively in the heuristics of reading, sourcing, researching, and doing historical investigations.

Yet, as Samuel Wineburg puts it so eloquently, historical thinking is not a “natural” act.[7] It is a sophisticated form of knowledge. Novices intuitively view history as a story of the past whereas historians develop expertise in thinking critically about the past. For the former, learning history is equated to “getting the story right,” usually in the form of a simplified narrative. Page  45For the latter, however, knowing history implies a complex—and always tentative—dialogue with the past using the available evidence and tools of the discipline. Growing evidence suggests that the development of a community of inquiry can help develop expertise among novices.[8] Linda Levstik and Keith Barton indicate that the process of asking meaningful questions, finding evidence, and drawing conclusions is known as inquiry. Teachers, they argue, “can capitalize on children’s natural enthusiasm for learning by making their classrooms places where students explore important and meaningful questions.”[9]

Equally challenging for twenty-first-century classrooms is the use of educational technologies. I have argued elsewhere that rich technological open learning environments, such as digital history programs, can support inquiry-based learning because of the types of resources and opportunities they offer to learners.[10] With the development of the Internet and related applications, there has been a push in the last decade to infuse technology into the history curriculum. As John Saye and Thomas Brush argue, digital open learning environments (1) create more realistic, vivid engagements with history (lifelike inquiries) than what is currently available, and (2) draw on and stimulate student development of expertise in history and new technologies.[11]

While school subjects such as science, language arts, and geography have directly benefited from instructional technologies, history lags behind.[12] Particularly in Canadian education, few digital programs focus on history education beyond archival websites, virtual tours, and online texts. The recent development of the Great Unsolved Mysteries in Canadian History project[13] presents refreshing initiatives to Canadian educators (see the chapter by Ruth Sandwell and John Sutton Lutz in this volume). In their own unique way, such programs put users in the virtual shoes of detectives engaged in investigating past and contemporary issues of significance.

Students’ Learning and the Virtual Historian

Instructional experience and the effectiveness of digital technology directly affect student learning. Empirical studies have revealed the limited pedagogical impact of storytelling and textbook reading on students’ historical development and reasoning.[14] There is thus a need for a shift in students’ existing habits of classroom work. The integration of digital technology in the history classroom can provide a catalyst for such a change.[15]

Yet educators must not hold unrealistic expectations. Recent findings suggest that technology alone is not a viable solution. Adam Friedman Page  46argues in his study of high school history teachers and technology that the use of online sources “depended to a greater extent on their access to computer projectors and school computing facilities.”[16] In the same way, the experimental studies of Saye and Brush, the qualitative works of John Lee and Brendan Calandra and Andrew Milson on WebQuest, and finally the Google search study of Bing Pan et al. offer important recommendations to consider.[17] Affordable access to online resources, such as primary source documents, artifacts, and hypertexts, provides users with a rich base of historical information rarely available in traditional textbooks. From such sources, students can navigate more randomly and be exposed to a greater variety of source types and perspectives on a given subject, widening their horizons and responding to their inquisitive minds. Yet many students in these studies have expressed concerns with regard to the nature of the sources and the amount of information available. Online historical texts are rarely produced in a language and narrative genre familiar to students. In the same way, the large—seemingly infinite—amount of texts available at the click of a mouse can easily overwhelm students who lack the searching and skimming skills necessary to navigate multiple, and often contradictory, sources. The result, as Milson observes, is that many students adopt a “path of least resistance,” scanning the material for quick and easy cut-and-paste factual answers.[18]

Available to users in both French and English, the Virtual Historian (VH) ( is an instructional technology developed to meet some of the challenges of digital history learning (see figure 2.1). Unlike textbooks, learning guides, and WebQuests, the VH provides users with nonlinear, authentic, and realistic inquiries (“missions”) about key issues in Canadian history. Web-based inquiries are framed around “topical questions,” which call for critical analysis, dialectical reasoning, and sophisticated understanding of key phenomena in the history curriculum.[19]

To complete their inquiries, students have access to an online tutorial and a brief synopsis of the mission with a topical question to answer. Curriculum rubrics present all the learning objectives addressed in the mission. Students are provided with conflicting primary and secondary sources on the subject, with embedded reading and sourcing questions, and with a web-based notepad to record and write answers. Students also have access to an online glossary for key words, to additional web resources, as well as to an integrated email program to communicate with their teacher or the program administrator.

Even though the VH was designed to promote digital inquiry learning, does it really work? Does it have a positive impact on students’ understanding of history? To answer these questions, a quasi-experimental study was conducted with 107 Ontario high school students in 2007–8. Following the

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Fig 2.1: The Virtual Historian library. The Virtual Historian.

Canadian history curriculum for grade 10 (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2005), one task was developed in the VH program: a case on “World War II and the Dieppe Raid, 1942” with four grade 10 history classes (two classroom-based and two VH) from two different English-speaking urban schools. By using the VH in Canadian classrooms, the study aimed to uncover the still unclear role and influence of such educational technology on students’ historical thinking and literacy—in terms of substantive knowledge acquisition (e.g., events, actors, dates), procedural knowledge development (e.g., use of evidence, perspective, significance), and epistemological knowledge understanding (how historical knowledge is constructed). Because of the potential of modern technology, the assumption was that digital history, as built in the VH program, can “mediate and support student historical thinking.”[20]

Methodological Matters

As noted above, the subject focus for this study was on Canada’s participation in World War II: the Dieppe Raid of 1942. The participation of Canadians at Dieppe in 1942 is an important episode in the study of World War II. It marked the first official engagement of Canadian troops on the European Page  48front. Of the six thousand soldiers involved in the Allied raid of August 1942, five thousand were from French and English Canadian units. The Dieppe Raid was not a military success: 907 Canadians died in the battle and nearly 2,000 were captured by the German army. The outcome and impact of the raid are still debated today by historians: useless massacre to test German defense, or necessary lesson for D-Day?

The tasks included for this study first comprised a pre-instruction test that identified students’ prior knowledge and understanding of World War II and the Dieppe Raid. This test was administered before students received formal teaching on the subject by the selected teachers (see following item for participating teachers). The second task focused on the experimental use of the Virtual Historian as an online teaching tool. Selected students from the VH groups received a brief introduction to the program by their respective teachers and spent three additional classes on the web-based historical investigations. During these classes, the teacher’s role was to assist students in their learning of the topic from the VH. The “case” from Canada’s participation in World War II developed in the Virtual Historian comprises a series of authentic, primary, and secondary source documents on the issue. The case also provided a historical map and photographs, declassified Allied and German newsreels and memoranda, a Canadian newspaper article of the time, sounds and animations, and extra resources in the form of hyperlinks to relevant official websites.

Students in the classroom groups did not use the VH but learned from one classroom lesson and an inquiry-based activity in the form of a carousel set with resources distributed to them at each station. Teachers in these classes were responsible for designing three inquiry-based lessons on the subject matter and were instructed to use the same sources on Dieppe. These included primary sources (historical photographs of the raid, paintings, and maps) and secondary sources (excerpts from three textbooks, video clips from CBC Canada: A People’s History and Canada at War series, and the Canadian Encyclopedia online) that students analyzed during the activity. The lessons were submitted and reviewed before teachers engaged in the study of Dieppe with their students. Both the VH and classroom groups had to answer the same questions on the Dieppe Raid and were provided with the same report template. More specifically, the history case asked students to study the strategic importance (or “historical significance”) of the Dieppe Raid for Canada, for the Allies, and ultimately for World War II. Students in all groups wrote an essay on the raid of 1942 based on the worksheets and sources at their disposal. Finally, the same questions from the pre-instruction test were used in a post-instruction test to assess students’ progression in historical learning of the subject.

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The participants for this study were made up of four classes of grade 10 students from two urban Ontario school districts (n = 107). The selection of participants followed a multiple-case design.[21] Two large urban schools in Ontario provided windows into two comparable grade 10 classes per district. The demographic information for the participating schools indicates that 787 students were enrolled in school #1 (174 students in grade 10), and 887 students in school #2 (170 students in grade 10). Results of the Ontario grade 10 literacy test for the schools indicate that 92 percent of participating first-time eligible students successfully completed the literacy test for school #1 and 64 percent of participating first-time eligible students for school #2 (compared to 84 percent as an average for the province). Each school had one classroom and one VH group with similar achievement means. Two different teachers (one for the VH group and one for the classroom group) were selected for each school. Selection was based on willingness to participate in the study.


Table 2.1 presents data on the VH and comparison groups concerning their understanding of the subject matter, discipline, and epistemology. For both instructional and VH groups, pre-test, post-test, and essay scores show that students increased their comprehension of the subject matter, understanding of history, and literacy skills.

Table 2.1. Mean scores and standard deviations for each variable by group

VariablesInstructional GroupsVirtual Historian Groups
Pre-Test Mean (SD)Post-Test Mean (SD)Essay Mean (SD)Pre-Test Mean (SD)Post-Test Mean (SD)Essay Mean (SD)
Tests and essay
School #1
3.51 (1.17)10.29 (2.65)12.26 (3.69)3.94 (1.78)11.51 (2.60)15.93 (2.89)
School #1
3.53 (1.38)4.23 (1.59)
Tests and essay
School #2
4.11 (2.67)9.08 (2.60)12.55 (2.58)3.72 (2.76)10.57 (2.45)12.73 (4.03)
School #2
2.99 (1.71)4.38 (1.58)

Findings reveal, however, that using the VH led to the organization and writing of more sophisticated essays as evidenced by students’ mean scores Page  50(m = 15.93 vs. m = 12.26 for school #1). A t-test reveals a statistically reliable difference between the mean scores of the two groups for school #1, t(44) = 3.570, p = 0.001, α = 0.05. Students in the VH group were able to construct more structured and coherent arguments than their counterparts. Their knowledge of the subject (e.g., series of events, actors, facts) was greater and their ability to think historically (present clear arguments supported by appropriate evidence, consider historical significance, and make judgments on the issue) was significantly more sophisticated than those in the classroom group. The same pattern could not be found with school #2 (m = 12.73 vs. m = 12.55), t(45) = 0.172, p = 0.865, α = 0.05. Yet, when looking at students’ understanding of epistemology, findings indicate that participants in the VH group for school #2 developed more advanced understanding of the nature of historical knowledge than their counterparts in the classroom (m = 4.38 vs. m = 2.99), t(50) = 3.049, p = 0.004, α = 0.05.

To investigate the relationship between variables (schools, groups, instructional strategies), an analysis of variance (ANOVA) was conducted using the essay scores as the dependent variable and the strategies (instructional, VH) and groups (school #1, school #2) as factors. The results (table 2.2) confirm the main effect of the strategy and school on essay scores. The results also indicate an effect between the instructional strategy and the school.

Table 2.2. ANOVA test

Dependent variable: Essay scores
SourceSum of SquaresdfMean SquareFSig.
Corrected model173.02357.674.81.004
Strategy * Schools67.89167.895.66.019
Corrected Total1240.6292

The non-statistically reliable differences on essay scores with students in school #2 are intriguing. Although further analysis is needed at this point, it can be hypothesized from the ANOVA test that external factors related to the school influenced the performance of these students. The lower scores of students from this population on the literacy test and the greater number of students with individualized educational programs (IEPs) and also having English as an additional language (26 percent of the grade 10 population for school #2 compared to 10 percent for school #1) are factors that appear to Page  51have impacted significantly on their overall performance. A section of this chapter below addresses this point.

Discussion and Conclusion

Learning to think critically about the past is a long and arduous process likely to put students and teachers at odds with popular history and standardized tests. There has been a misleading tendency in education to view knowledge as a binary “all-or-nothing” mode of acquisition. Learning outcomes in curriculum guidelines are often designed for teachers to assess whether or not students master the prescribed expectations for history. But like in any sport or apprenticeship program, history learners do not instinctively turn into experts after some limited exposure to the field. They gradually become skilled when engaged in various drills, practices, and exercises suited for their own development.[22] Even then, intuitive and common-sense ideas often remain durable after repeated learning activities and experiences. To achieve expertise, people require “ample doses of discipline in the alternative sense of the term: regular practice, with feedback, in applying those habits of mind that yield understanding.”[23]

The Virtual History program was designed to provide students with some digital exposure to what it is like to gradually inquire and think like a historian. Students in the VH groups, particularly from school #1, developed a deeper understanding of the subject matter and the discipline than those who studied the same subject from classroom learning activities. They were able to describe more specifically the events and actors involved in the Dieppe Raid, provide more supporting evidence for their claims, and explain more thoroughly what history is and how historical interpretations are generated. In other words, they showed a more advanced progression in thinking historically about the events. For Catty, a female student from school #1, different interpretations of Dieppe are valid “so long as there is evidence to support the other interpretation” (TOE-004).[24] Virgil goes further and discusses the contingency of historians’ claims by arguing that “some interpretations can be different. Like some sources today may still be available to historians that they have not investigated yet” (TOE-016). The following essay explanation from Pearce on the lessons learned from the raid illustrates very well how students from this group used the historical documents in their essay. Lessons are specific to the context of the battle, look at both sides, and are supported by references or direct quotations to the sources in question.

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There were many lessons learned from the mistakes at Dieppe. The need for fire support provided itself to be one of the biggest lessons, as there was no fire support at Dieppe (Report 128). A more confirming lesson learned was one of weapons. The Allies learned that most weapons performed wonderfully with the exception of the incendiary bullet, which was virtually useless (Notes from the Theatres of War). A battleship was thought to have potentially “turned the tide in our favour” according to Capt. J. Huges-Hallet. . . . The Germans learned that any attempt to invade the town could be promptly destroyed on the beach (Hamilton Newspaper Article).

In contrast, more students from the classroom (non-VH) groups understood history intuitively and produced essays in story form without use of the evidence provided to them in class. This finding was more evident with students from school #2. Sources were largely absent or considered exclusively for the information they convey (facts, dates, events). In many ways, their essays mirrored their school textbook—in terms of both content and structure. The following excerpt from Vero is typical:

The raid at Dieppe was useful because troops learned lessons from it. It was used as a learning experience that provided the Allies important information about Germany and battle strategies. Lessons learned were used two years later in 1944 for the D. Day battle. Britain developed armoured vehicles. This allowed their engineers to perform their tasks protected by amour. These vehicles were successfully used on D. Day. (TOC-023)

Unlike the previous student’s explanation, this one offers only vague statements on the lessons. It is not clear from this essay what has been learned or why “Britain developed armoured vehicles” for D-Day. In fact, no source is referenced in text, making it extremely difficult to understand the reasoning of this student and her ability to infer knowledge from sources. Information is presented in a descriptive manner, only without a coherent, evidence-based argument.

Equally interesting from the findings is the positive relationship between students’ historical thinking and their ability to write essays—a correlation that has also been observed in previous studies.[25] An analysis of the relationship between essay structure (thesis, composition, citations/references) and thinking skills (argumentation, use of sources, significance of the raid) reveals a high coefficient of correlation between the two sets of scores for school #1 (Pearson r = 0.779, p < 0.001) and school #2 (Pearson r = 0.795, Page  53p < 0.001). These results suggest that students who have acquired some sophisticated understandings of history as a discipline are more likely to develop well-structured and coherent historical essays. Similar results were also found in a previous study with Canadian students,[26] which established that the VH favors engagement with the subject matter and focuses students’ attention on the resolution of an investigation based on historical evidence and inquiry steps. Students in the VH group did not see a disconnection between the web-based inquiry and the writing of their argumentative essays, as did students in the comparison group. More than this, they had the feeling they could personally investigate and go into greater depth in the study of a significant episode in Canadian history.

But since the direction of the correlation is not clear from this study, it can also be hypothesized that historical literacy skills have a direct impact on how students make sense of the past. Research shows that those who have successful reading comprehension strategies and writing skills tend to create more coherent historical arguments supported by appropriate evidence. “Deeper processing,” as Jennifer Voss and James Wiley contend in light of their own experimental study, “is facilitated by the individual’s prior knowledge, of the specific topic, related topics, and history in general and a more advanced level of general information and thinking skills, such as knowledge of essay structures.”[27] Valerie, a student from school #1 who used the VH, comments on her positive research experience: “My interest in history has increased because I’ve learned how many sources you can get info from and to never give up when researching” (TVE-018).

This is to say, then, that students who have already acquired some ability to search and collect sources, skim through them, compare and contrast their arguments, and make a structured argument on the strategic importance of the raid are also more likely to create essays with deeper understanding of the events and actors using multiple historical sources in a critical way. Steve, the history teacher from school #1 who used the VH, recorded the following in his teacher log: “The experimental group used far better vocabulary. . . . The bottom line is the good students got a lot out of the VH, handling it with ease.”

There has been a tendency in computational technology literature to blend critical research with self-advocacy. Supporters of new technologies in education tend to see the positive impact in the marketplace as an indicator of their uncontested potential for classroom improvement. These people, as Kathleen Swan and Mark Hofer argue, “appear to assume that technology is preferable to traditional modes of instruction, that it can make a good teacher better, and that it leads to more student-centered (and therefore preferable) instruction.”[28] Findings from this study suggest some positive impact Page  54of the program on student achievement. As Katy, who successfully used the VH for her research, puts it: “I prefer in the computer lab because you can learn it your own way” (TVE-001). Yet the educational community will be better served in the end if researchers look at how specific technologies affect students and how digital programs support or detract from particular kinds of learning and achievement. Instead of presenting narrowly defined case studies of best practices, it may be worth analyzing both the potential for, and challenges of, integrating digital technology in history education. As a matter of fact, this study presents challenges that are critical for further use of digital history.

Sources as Fact Sheets

While students who used the program exclusively increased their overall understanding of history significantly, a majority continued to look at historical sources from a “readerly” perspective.[29]

The Journal of Southern History


The Journal of Southern History, which is edited at and sponsored by Rice University, is a quarterly devoted to the history of the American South and is unrestricted as to chronological period, methodology, or southern historical topic. The Journal publishes refereed articles and solicited book reviews and book notes on all aspects of southern history. As the organ of the Southern Historical Association, which is headquartered in the Department of History at the University of Georgia, the Journal also publishes items pertaining to the business of the Association as well as news and notices of interest to historians of and in the South. The purpose of the Southern Historical Association is to encourage the study of history in the South with an emphasis on the history of the South.

Coverage: 1935-2012 (Vol. 1, No. 1 - Vol. 78, No. 4)

Moving Wall: 5 years (What is the moving wall?)

The "moving wall" represents the time period between the last issue available in JSTOR and the most recently published issue of a journal. Moving walls are generally represented in years. In rare instances, a publisher has elected to have a "zero" moving wall, so their current issues are available in JSTOR shortly after publication.
Note: In calculating the moving wall, the current year is not counted.
For example, if the current year is 2008 and a journal has a 5 year moving wall, articles from the year 2002 are available.

Terms Related to the Moving Wall
Fixed walls: Journals with no new volumes being added to the archive.
Absorbed: Journals that are combined with another title.
Complete: Journals that are no longer published or that have been combined with another title.

ISSN: 00224642

EISSN: 23256893

Subjects: History, American Studies, History, Area Studies

Collections: Arts & Sciences I Collection, JSTOR Essential Collection

Categories: 1

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