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Roughing It in the Backwoods
Susanna Moodie and Catharine Parr Traill are two of Canada's most important 19th-century writers. Born in England, the two sisters became professional writers before they were married. In 1832, they emigrated with their Scottish husbands to Canada and settled in the backwoods of what is now Ontario, near present-day Lakefield. Their experiences as pioneers gave them much to write about, which they did in their books, articles, poems and letters to family members.
This activity will give you the chance to view primary source materials online and learn about aspects of life as an early settler in the backwoods of Upper Canada.
Introduction: Primary Sources
A primary source is a first-hand account, by someone who participated in or witnessed an event. These sources could be: letters, books written by witnesses, diaries and journals, reports, government documents, photographs, art, maps, video footage, sound recordings, oral histories, clothing, tools, weapons, buildings and other clues in the surroundings.
A secondary source is a representation of an event. It is someone's interpretation of information found in primary sources. These sources include books and textbooks, and are the best place to begin research.
Primary sources are considered more reliable than secondary sources in historical research. As such, you should learn to use them as soon as possible. The letters you will be looking at today are primary sources -- the words of people who were there.
However, this does not mean that they are the "perfect source": all writers have a bias, whether intentional or unintentional. You must ask yourself: Does this person have any reason to lie, to misrepresent or misinterpret? Consider bias that might come from a writer's gender, class, religion, ethnicity, nationality or political views.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Primary and Secondary Sources
Navigate the various sections of the Susanna Moodie and Catharine Parr Traill site: Biographies, Life in England, Emigration and Bush Life, etc. Take a look at the Letters Index. Read the secondary sources on the site that relate to your topic before reading the letters.
Your essay should include:
Length of paper:
Your essay should develop one of the following topics, or one approved by your instructor:
1. (Argument) Life for settlers like the Moodies and Traills was easy/difficult. Look at all aspects of life (see question 4 for suggestions).
2. (Compare and contrast) Compare and contrast the life of Susanna Moodie and/or Catharine Parr Traill in the 1830s to your life today. Look at all aspects of life (see question 4 for suggestions).
3. (Descriptive) Describe in detail the conditions that Susanna Moodie or Catharine Parr Traill faced in the 1830s. Look at all aspects of life (see question 4 for suggestions).
4. (Investigation) Investigate/research a particular aspect of the life of Susanna Moodie and/or Catharine Parr Traill. Some suggestions:
Susanna Moodie: Roughing It in the Bush, Volume 2, Chapter 10
About: Writing: Essays, Paragraphs and Papers