Historic Places and the Inquiry Method: Analyzing Evidence from a Teaching with Historic Places Lesson Plan
The following case study is intended for use by methods professors (and others) to demonstrate to their students how historic places can be used in the classroom to apply the inquiry method.
“Historic places – buildings, districts, and landscapes – can serve as the locus for study by pre-service teachers to demonstrate how significant concepts in the social sciences can be made accessible to their pupils.” (Charles S. White, The Place of “Place” in the History/Social Studies Methods Course)
Historic places have much to offer in teaching students about specific time periods, people, and events. Primary documents (the raw material of historical inquiry):
- Primary documents associated with specific sites such as inventories, store logs/account books, diaries, letters, etc. help students imagine what life was like at that place, at that time, and for that person.
- Historic maps, photographs, paintings, and drawings allow students actually to visualize lifestyles, customs, dress, furnishings, transportation methods, topography, settlement patterns, etc.
- Although primary sources are often seen as illustrations or “extra” materials, their power to engage student interest and provide unique learning opportunities should not be overlooked.
- On close examination, primary documents associated with historic places can provide answers to many important questions about the past.
- Primary documents may spark additional questions that require students to consult secondary materials for the big picture.
Together, primary and secondary sources can provide inquisitive students with the tools they need to answer questions and form conclusions on their own. Being exposed to various forms of evidence related to a real historic place can capture student interest in a way a textbook account alone may not. In short, using sources as evidence for students to analyze rather than merely look at provides an opportunity for them to become actively engaged in the learning process.