Memorial University of Newfoundland
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Unit Five - Appendix 4

Studying Local History

The study of local history provides a real opportunity for students to apply concepts and skills they acquire during their study of the history of the province. According to the grade 8 Newfoundland and Labrador History Curriculum, students will be expected to demonstrate competencies in “thinking as an historian, and using the tools of history in locating and accessing sources of information at a basic level”. Local history is a legitimate avenue of research as students develop concepts and skills in a limited, but familiar context that can be inter-connected to those found in an expanded but more unfamiliar context.

The following is a planning guide for preparing for a study of local history. References to specific curriculum outcomes and delineations are made only as examples of processes and procedures.

1. Preparation for conducting a study of local history

1.1 Choose your area of study

There are many avenues for studying local history; it may be examined at a broad level, or in a more specific and manageable way. Rather than take on a study of the community, for example, it may be wise to focus on some aspects of it.

Research themes for local history
• the school
• a place of worship
• a house
• the courthouse
• the hospital
• a local business (e.g., fish plant, a store, craft shop)
• cemetery study
• family names

It is possible to combine individual local studies into a more comprehensive piece to make up a community history and, hence, give the students’ work more significance (refer to item 4.3 of this Appendix).

1.2 Tie the area of research or theme to the curriculum

Select the outcome and delineations which legitimize and give direction to the area of study that the student selects.

Historical inquiry

SCO 1.1 with delineations 1.1.1 - 1.1.2 and SCO 1.2 with delineations 1.2.1 - 1.2.8 nicely demonstrate the directions or processes for studying local history. Basically they identify the steps essential to historical inquiry:

• Identify an initial source(s) of information
• Formulate a key question
• Identify other sources to ensure reliability of information
• Gather information
• Find patterns in the information gathered
• Draw generalization from the patterns
• Present explanations or arguments in support of the key question

1.3 Become familiar with the sources of information

It is important to help the student prepare for the study by becoming familiar with the historical source(s) before the research actually begins.

Familiarization with the sources of information
• Visit the site (in case a history of a structure is being studied)
• Visit the archive, museum, or library (in case relevant primary sources are found there)
• Visit the local person (to familiarize him or her with what is being studied and to assess his or her comfort with the process)
• Examine photos
• Develop a list of materials and equipment needed
• Develop a questionnaire (where applicable) and identify other formats for recording the information.

2. Introduce the study of local history

2.1 Fully brief students of the purpose of a study of local history

Purpose (example)
To find out how the fish plant got started and became important in our community.

2.2 Assign tasks to the student

It is advisable for more than one student to engage in the study of the same theme, but each student does not necessarily have to be engaged in the same processes. For example, different steps in historical inquiry (see item 1.2 above) may be assigned to different students.

The teacher may assign these tasks according to their interests and abilities.

2.3 Assign out-of-class activities to the student

Ensure that students know what they have to do and that they are prepared in advance.

3. Out-of-Class Tasks

3.1 Engage students in the assigned tasks

Field tasks
• Note-taking
• Field sketching
• Taking photos
• Interviewing
• Researching text materials
• Recording in appropriate A/V formats
• Photo-copying, or scanning text information

It is important to assign a task that is compatible with a skill a student may have. For example, some students may be more skilled at interviewing than note-taking, or at taking photos than sketching.

3.2 Monitor student activities

As students engage in their field activities, ensure that they exercise good time on task, that clarification of ideas and tasks are given them, and that tasks are even modeled for them, if necessary.

4. In-class Synthesis

4.1 Students prepare and present field data

Back in the classroom, students will analyse their data according to the methods of historical inquiry outlined in item 1.2. The format of the final presentation of their findings may vary.

Presentation formats
• Written report (or essay)
• Photo-essay
• Oral presentation
• A/V Presentation
• Posture board display
• Published article (e.g., on the school website, in a school or community newspaper)

4.2 Use of methodologies most suited to the task

• Independent work as students organize the information and/or materials collected during the field research.
• Teacher questioning to (1) help students review what happened during the research phase, and (2) guide them through the process of historical inquiry in item 1.2.
• Cooperative learning as students in a group compare their findings and prepare reports, displays, or articles.

4.3 Attributing significance to the project

It is important to give an opportunity for the different pieces of work to be assembled collectively into a more comprehensive school-based project. For example, a school website could be an avenue to “publish” a narrative around a school project and, in it, to display examples from individual projects. Parents could be invited to view a school display in the gymnasium. As well, individual projects may be submitted to a Newfoundland and Labrador Heritage Fair.

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