The Teacher as Historical Detective: Modeling a Scholarly Investigation. Before we can teach our students to do their own historical research - to become historical detectives - we have to model historical scholarship. Below is an example of how you would conduct such an investigation and then present it to your students. Painting of John Brown

Step 1: Select a topic. Our topic will be John Brown and his involvement in trying to abolish slavery. We have already learned about John Brown - the man, his involvement in the Potawaminee Massacre, and his attack at Harper's Ferry. Now it is time for me to conduct some of my own analysis by deciding if John Brown was a great man, or a failure.

Step 2: Select a thesis I have two choices:  John Brown was a failure, or John Brown was a great man. 

Step 3: Use a primary source to defend your thesis. Now, I must examine at least three primary source documents and then pick one that I feel is THE MOST IMPORTANT in defending my thesis. I must write one paragraph explaining why I chose this source as my key primary document.  In my paragraph, I will include specific quotes in the document that persuaded me that my thesis was correct. I must also include a bibliographic reference for all documents.

Photo of John BrownStep 4:  Use a secondary souce to defend your thesis. I must find one secondary resource – a book or article - that supports my thesis. Then I must write no more than one paragraph explaining how and why this secondary document further supports my thesis. I must include specific quotes and/or images from the book/article that persuaded m to adopt my thesis and a bibliographic reference for my book or article.

Step 5: (Optional) Use another primary and/or secondary source to test your thesis. Photo of John BrownFind another primary and/or secondary source that supports - or refutes - my thesis. Write no more than two paragraphs explaining how and why these primary and/or secondary documents support or refute my thesis. I must include specific quotes from the sources that support or refute my thesis; an explanation of how and why these documents either reinforced my own thesis or encouraged me to reconsider my thesis; and a bibliographic reference for each document.

Step 6:  Reflecting upon your work as an Historian. This is perhaps the most important part of my research and modeling. I must now reflect upon the thesis I selected. After closely examining the primary and secondary sources, did they still support my thesis, or did they convince me to change my mind? Then, write a 1-page essay in which I discuss and provide evidence of why I either continued to support the thesis, any doubts that arose in the course of my research about my thesis, and a statement describing the 2-3 most important points that I found in all my resources to either support or reject my thesis.