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In the Classroom > Course Overview > Unit Overview
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Lesson 4: The Work of an Historian --
Research 17th Century Colonist John Pynchon of Springfield, Massachusetts

Lesson Central Question:

In This Lesson:

How do we learn about the past?


Lesson Length
Key Ideas
Activity 1
Lesson Length

1 class period (85 minutes)

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Key Content Ideas Taught in this Lesson and Teacher Background

How historians approach their work using both artifacts and documents will be taught. Students will practice this craft by researching a prominent historical figure in the Connecticut River Valley during colonial times, John Pynchon.

Teacher Background Essay: Primary and Secondary Sources.

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Intended Learning Outcomes

Students will understand:

  • that it is valuable to study the lives, actions, ideas, political experiences, and judgments of people in the past.
  • that it is important NOT to judge people in the past by today's notions and beliefs.
  • how historians approach their work, using both artifacts and documents.
  • that both primary source materials and interpretive materials of all types are rich sources of historical evidence.
  • that land ownership conferred power because it was a determinant of wealth, and a prerequisite for political participation.
  • That there were increasingly in this period competing political agendas, and competition for land, power, and wealth in Deerfield.

Students will be able to:

  • transcribe a primary document.
  • utilize technology to research information and present projects.

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In Preparation for Teaching

Read the following as background:

1. "How to Read Old Documents" from the Memorial Hall website (link at bottom of this page.)

2. Read Student Background Essay: Reading Primary Sources.

3. Read Teacher Background Essay: Primary and Secondary Sources.

Further Background Reading:

Armytage, Frances and Juliette Tomlinson. The Pynchons of Springfield: Founders and Colonizers (1636-1702) Springfield, Massachusetts: Connecticut Historical Museum, 1969.

Hitchins, Christopher. "Goodbye to All That – Why Americans Are Not Taught History" Harper's Magazine, November, 1998.

Sheldon, George. The History of Deerfield, MA. Somersworth, N.H. N.H. Publishing Company, 1972. Pp. 63-64, 201.

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Primary and Secondary Sources:

  1. Basic Questions Worksheet An analysis sheet for primary documents and objects
  2. Primary and Secondary Source samples from Web site.
  3. Memorial hall Website search for "John Pynchon."
  4. Innes, Stephen. Early Settlement in the Connecticut Valley. Westfield, MA: Westfield State College, 1984. Pp. 22-35.

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Activities Materials in Context

Activity 1

1. Write the following vignette on the board, then ask the students to respond in their journals. Be convincing! Use examples.

The Greek verb historein means "to ask questions."
What needs to be combated in the study of history is the idea, so often expressed, that "light" is preferred to "heat". But, heat, as you all have learned in other courses, is the source of light. History should be a field of ardent contestation and not another patch of arid ground. Puralism is a means as well as an end. Consider this example:
"Such a lot of things seem to me such rot," says a young girl in one of Agatha Christie's mysteries. "History, for instance. Why it's quite different out of different books!" To this her mentor, wise in the ways of the world replies: "That is of real interest."

2. Invite students to tell what they would use as historians as evidence to learn about the past, then ask them to define the terms "primary documents" and "secondary documents" in their own words.

3. Introduce the students to the Basic Questions Worksheet

4. Divide students into groups to examine sample types of documents. Using the Memorial Hall website, ask students to locate any 5 types of the following:
Account books, inventories, diaries, photographs, maps, town records and specific types of items such as furniture, clothing, or household goods.

  • After close examination of the documents, using the worksheets, ask students to report some of the information that they could "tease out" from these items.
  • Conclude by reflecting on the continuing work of scholars and the implications for adding new information to historical events.

Assignment: Using your skills as an historian, go to both primary and secondary sources to locate information on an early colonial leader in Western Massachusetts, John Pynchon. Use both print and electronic resources, especially the Memorial Hall site, then take notes on the following:

  • General biographical information
  • Interaction with the native peoples
  • Role as a land broker
  • Political role

Once you have completed your research, write and be prepared to present a eulogy for John Pynchon.















Basic Questions Worksheet





Early Settlement in the Connecticut Valley

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Class participation and the written eulogy.

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