EvidenceWeb Educational Resources
The Confederation Chronicles
What Is a Primary-Source Document?
Students will learn what a primary-source document is, what different types there were back in 1867, and what newer kinds there are today. The students will be engaged in their learning by playing a form of bingo using printed cards that reproduce different primary-source documents related to Confederation.
- increase their knowledge of the people, times and social and political activities of the British North American colonies in the 1860s;
- define a primary-source document;
- identify the different types of primary-source documents found in Canada in the 1860s;
- identify types of primary-source documents used today that would not have been around in the 1860s.
1. Locate the following 16 primary-source Confederation documents on the "EvidenceWeb", part of the Library and Archives Canada Learning Centre website:
- Sir John Alexander Macdonald
- Letter from George Brown to John A. Macdonald
- Letter from Alexander James Christie to his father, Alexander
- "Battle of Ridgeway, C.W…"
- Antoine-Aimé Dorion
- Letter by George Brown to his wife, Anne, dated May 18, 1864
- "The Great Confederation"
- "Report of Resolutions…", with doodles
- "The League of the Maritime Provinces"
- "La Confédération!!!"
- "Confederation! The Much-fathered Youngster"
- "New Map of the Dominion of Canada"
- Opening of the Parliament Buildings
- "By the Queen: A Proclamation for Uniting the Provinces…"
- Locomotive No. 209, Trevithick, of the Grand Trunk Railway
- Cantata - Confederation
2. Bookmark the Confederation theme on the "EvidenceWeb" so that students can find the documents easily.
3. Print the cards [PDF 1,245 KB] containing each of the documents. Make enough copies to ensure that each student will get one card.
4. Make enough copies of Handout 1.1 (Archives Bingo) so that each student has one.
45 to 65 minutes
Introduction (10 to 15 minutes)
1. Post and review the lesson agenda with your students:
- Identify the characteristics of a primary-source document.
- Play "Archives Bingo".
- Identify the different kinds of primary-source documents that existed in the 1860s.
- Suggest kinds of primary-source documents are available today that would not have existed in the 1860s.
- Give a complete definition of a primary-source document.
- Review prior knowledge about Confederation.
2. Show the photograph of the Fathers of Confederation at Charlottetown (September 1864) or Québec (October 1864) to your students and tell them that this is a primary-source document.
3. Ask them what they can tell you about this photograph. [Picture of the past, all men, probably an important event etc.]
4. Ask them to define the term "primary-source document". Direct them to define the words "primary" and "document". ["Primary" means first in time, original, or created during the time the event occurred. "Document" means something written or printed that gives information; any original or official paper that can be used as evidence. Also includes photographs, letters, maps etc.]
5. Show them a textbook and explain that this is a secondary-source document. Discuss the differences between a primary and secondary source. Brainstorm with the students to come up with a list of other types of secondary-source documents. Ask them why historians and journalists prefer to use primary rather than secondary sources for their research.
Body of Lesson (25 to 35 minutes)
1. Hand out a Confederation card to each student. Some students will have the same document.
2. Direct the students to the "EvidenceWeb". Have them read some background information to find out about the document they have been assigned.
3. Distribute Handout 1.1 (Archives Bingo) to all students.
4. Tell students that they will be playing Archives Bingo. Explain the rules of the game:
- Find the student in the class who has the card you need to complete a Bingo row. You can solicit only one answer from each person. You must have 16 different names on your card when it is complete.
- In the appropriate square, write the first name of the student from whom you got the answer, as well as a short description of the document.
- Call out Bingo when you have a line complete -- horizontal, vertical, or diagonal. Stop play while the student who gets a bingo tells the class the answers.
- The game is over once all 16 squares on the card are filled.
For answers see Handout 1.2.
Conclusion (10 to 15 minutes)
1. Ask the whole class what different types of primary-source documents they have. List them on the board. [Personal letter, photograph, lithograph of a painting, formal letter, newspaper article, official document, caricature or political cartoon, song, map]
2. Ask what these documents have in common. [Time period, 1860s; the event is Confederation; involves mostly men]
3. Discuss whether there could be other types of primary-source documents. [Diaries, journals, memos, minutes from a meeting, paintings, poetry, novels, books, magazine articles, etc.]
4. Ask students what different types of primary-source documents are available today that would not have been around in 1867. [Email, audio and video recordings, DVDs, CDs, etc.]
5. Go back and review the earlier definition for primary-source document and add on any new information.
6. Brainstorm with your students everything they now know about Confederation. What are some of the facts and opinions about Confederation? Who are some of the key people? When did it happen? How did some people feel about it? What were some of the events that took place leading up to Confederation?
1. Collect Handout 1.1 (Archives Bingo) and do a formative assessment for completeness and thoroughness.
2. Observe who contributes and cooperates during the lesson, both during the bingo game and whole-class discussions.
1. Ask students to describe or bring in an example of a primary- and a secondary-source document that they have at home.
2. Discuss or debate the resolution that "Historians should only use primary sources in their research".