Identify evidence to assess the credibility of a primary historical account.
Discuss the idea of judging credibility: Explain to students that credibility is the quality of being believable or trustworthy. Illustrate the idea of assessing credibility using the following scenario: “A classmate informs you that he overheard the girl of your dreams say that she wanted to go out with you.” Individually or in partners, invite students to identify questions to ask that might help whether or not to trust the statement (e.g., Has this person ever lied to you? Was the person close enough to hearing exactly what the girl was saying? Might the girl be playing a trick?). Invite students to share their questions and ask students to consider the importance of judging the credibility of accounts they encounter in their daily lives.
Introduce judging credibility of historical sources: Inform students that an important aspect of learning history is to be able to judge the credibility of primary accounts. Explain to students that historians use primary source accounts as “raw materials” from which they draw historical conclusions. Primary source accounts deliberately describe, explain or provide an “account of” an event and are original or first-hand in terms of time and access to an event. Explain that when judging the credibility of primary accounts students are to use criteria to assess the extent to which a primary source account is to be trusted. Distribute a copy of #1 Judging Credibility of Primary Accounts and explain the structure of the data chart, define important terms and outline expectations for completed sheets.
Apply the strategy to a contemporary account: Distribute #2 Example: Judging Credibility and invite students to complete the data chart #1 Judging Credibility of Primary Accounts to confirm their ability to gather relevant evidence and make plausible judgments about the credibility of a contemporary account. Invite them to share their completed data charts, or if desired, distribute assessment rubric #3 Assessing Conclusions about Credibility and invite students to peer- or self-assess their work.
Teach the required tools: If students had difficulty completing the activity, assist them in learning more about the particular criteria for judging the credibility of a primary account.
Identifying conflict of interest: This section helps students understand an important part of judging faithful representation—recognizing conflicts of interest. Provide students with the following situation: The recent school science fair head judge Mr. Gordon awarded the top prize to his son Jason. Ask students if they think there is anything wrong with this scenario.
Explain to students that the above scenario is an example of a conflict of interest. A conflict of interest is defined as a situation in which an individual or organization expected to be impartial is involved in multiple interests, one of which could possibly lead to improper actions. It is important that students understand that a conflict of interest is not improper in itself, rather it presents the opportunity for an improper action to occur. For example, Mr. Gordon’s son may have been deserving of the top prize. Distribute #1 Recognizing Conflict of Interest and invite students to determine which of the examples are conflicts of interest, and which are not. When completed, invite students to share their conclusions with the rest of the class.
Introduce a historical example: Distribute #4 Historical Sources for Judging Credibility to students individually or in pairs. It contains a primary account of Douglas’ capture of an accused murderer (Document A) and a historian’s secondary account of the capture (Document B). Explain to students that Document B can be used to corroborate the information in Document A.
Judge the credibility of the primary account: Distribute data chart #1 Judging Credibility of Primary Accounts and invite students to identify evidence about the credibility of Douglas’ primary account by completing the activity sheet. Remind students to corroborate Douglas’ account with the secondary account Document B.
Debrief the findings: After completing the data chart, invite students to share their findings with other students. Encourage students to provide feedback on other students’ completed data charts by using the assessment rubric #3 Assessing Conclusions about Credibility. Display copies of #5 Sample Answer: Judging Credibility and invite students to compare their answers with the copy provided.
Apply to other documents: When students understand what is involved in judging the credibility of primary accounts and have received feedback on their efforts, provide additional documents for students to investigate. Encourage students to judge the credibility of sources for each assigned primary account by answering orally or in writing the questions on data chart, #1 Judging Credibility of Primary Accounts.