Conscription Crisis 1917 Essay Contest


During World War I, a unique and unparalleled civil-military relationship formed. The U.S. government and its military worked closely with civilian leaders to bring about an Allied victory in Europe. Conscription was complicated by America’s diversity which reflected prevailing class, ethnic, racial, and ideological differences. Mobilizing public opinion spurred a super-patriotic and jingoistic fervor that escalated into mass hysteria and ultimately demanded total conformity. Demobilization efforts included finding jobs for soldiers – an effort the War Department undertook out of a feeling of responsibility and fear of encroaching radicalism. This article will examine three complex issues in America’s World War I civil-military history: conscription, mobilizing public opinion, and demobilization.


Executing a national draft in World War I posed a significant challenge to American political leaders, and the drafting of some 4 million men came with many complications. In 1917, President Woodrow Wilson (1856-1924) expressed concern that a national draft could be viewed as undemocratic and could result in resistance to the federal government. To implement conscription, the Wilson Administration sought to prevent serious draft problems that had been predominant during the American Civil War. Further complicating the World War I draft was the massive influx of immigrants predominately from Eastern and Southern Europe – some 23 million strong – who arrived in the United States between 1880 and 1917. Would these immigrants serve? Finally, racial issues continued to plague the nation and the disputed role of black soldiers helped to fuel the already volatile congressional draft debates.[1]

The Civil War Enrollment Act of March 1863 had permitted drafted men to hire substitutes or make a commutation payment of $300 to be exempt from service in the Union Army. This policy generated resentment among the lower classes who could not afford to pay their way out of the draft. The Union’s draft crisis also centered on the registration process, which created much bitterness when federal provost marshals searched homes seeking men eligible for the draft and arresting deserters. Draft resistance and mob violence occurred in a dozen northern cities.[2]

The Wilson Administration’s conscription policies were aimed at avoiding the drama and resentment of the Civil War draft and defusing any ideological impulses to associate conscription with federal tyranny and class privilege. Initially, President Wilson planned to raise an army through a volunteer system, worried that conscription could lead to hostility from rural and industrial workers and from some ethnic groups who had insisted on U.S. neutrality. Additionally, the controversial pre-war Preparedness Movement – that had recently pushed for but failed to achieve universal military training for all able-bodied men – had stoked opposition to possible government-mandated service. However, President Wilson soon argued that a national draft would be the fairest and most resourceful way to create a mass army in a democracy. Not all political leaders agreed, and Congress engaged in fiery debate over the Selective Service Act before it finally passed on 28 April 1917.

The new Selective Service Director, Provost Marshal General Enoch H. Crowder (1859-1932), banned both substitutions and commutation. In addition, Crowder shifted the responsibility for the draft from the federal government to local draft boards. Overwhelmingly, local draft board leadership came from the elite sector of the native-born, white communities, and Crowder provided guidelines to the 4,647 local boards.[3] Next, President Wilson established the Committee on Public Information (CPI), the nation’s official government propaganda machine. Among other responsibilities, CPI had to convince Americans to support the Selective Service process and help local draft boards infuse patriotism and public celebration into the draft registration process. Conversely, the federal government made it clear that draft evaders would be arrested, face public trials, and have their names published as a way to shame the “slackers.” The Espionage Act of 1917 levied considerable fines or prison terms (up to twenty years) for obstructing the draft or promoting antiwar antagonism.[4]

Although immigrants had served in the American military in every conflict since the War of Independence, World War I was unique in the sheer size and multiple ethnicities of the foreign-born in the ranks of the U.S. Army. In 1917, after a series of congressional debates concerning drafting of immigrants, the Selective Service divided the foreign born into four groups: diplomatic, declarant, non-declarant, and enemy aliens. Only declarant immigrants were eligible for the draft – those who filed papers of intent to become citizens and were waiting to fulfill their five-year residency before completion of the naturalization process. While the Selective Service considered this a clear way to deal with the drafting of immigrants into the American army, challenges quickly followed. Protest from native-born communities soon arose over dissatisfaction with the quota system, which mandated that local boards draft a percentage of the total population in each district. With non-declarant and enemy aliens technically ineligible for conscription, many feared that American citizens would be disproportionately drafted, and national newspapers wrote of resentment over the “alien slacker.”[5]

Some members of Congress fiercely objected to over-drafting of the native-born and insisted that all foreign-born men be drafted into the army. However, the State Department counter-argued that drafting all immigrants would cause diplomatic problems by putting Americans abroad at risk of being drafted into foreign armies. After much discussion with allied countries, the State Department remedied numerous problems with reciprocal treaties of conscription and exemption that also satisfied Congress. Both declarants and non-declarants from allied nations had to choose between serving in the U.S. Army or the army of their native country. The U.S. government also accelerated the naturalization process for immigrant soldiers in its army to avoid further diplomatic problems. Enemy Aliens still technically could not serve.[6]

Congress settled the unfair quota issue with a classification system that placed native-born and eligible foreign-born – those who were physically and mentally fit – into Class I. The selective service computed the quota system based only on Class I (instead of the total population of a given area), ending the dilemma of disproportionate drafting. However, confusion and errors frequently occurred, and enemy aliens along with non-declarant immigrants (from countries without reciprocal agreements) found themselves inducted into the U.S. Army. Most requested to waive their right of exemption and stay in the service of their adopted country. This was especially true of enemy aliens who emigrated from the Austro-Hungarian Empire. This group considered itself to be from the “oppressed races” of the empire and actively supported America’s fight to defeat the Central Powers. The War Department asked commanding officers to determine if immigrants from enemy nations were loyal to America. If so, the immigrants could remain in the army. Eventually, over 18 percent of the soldiers in the U.S. Army represented immigrants (declarant, non-declarant, and enemy aliens) from forty-six nationalities.[7]

The drafting of African Americans represented a very different story, as it quickly became entwined with deep-seated racial issues. Despite some short-term gains toward full citizenship after the Civil War, political and economic advancement for blacks had deteriorated rapidly by 1917. Segregation and disenfranchisement defined life for southern African Americans, and the pre-war Great Migration to the north increased conflict in urban areas due to labor competition and racist attitudes. The situation quickly ignited Congressional debates over the Selective Service Act in 1917, as southern leaders forcefully battled against conscription of African Americans, fearing retribution from military trained black soldiers. At the start of the war, the General Staff resolved to use African American troops primarily in noncombatant units and to keep a black minority in the training camps to prevent conflict. On-going discussions over possible changes in the use of black troops continued, but fear of racial conflict stopped any significant shift in military policy. Overwhelmingly, military leaders assigned African Americans to segregated labor units, severely limiting combat opportunities. Many black leaders protested the limitations placed on African-American soldiers, but little changed.[8]

The World War I national draft produced controversy, debates, and confusion, but overall there was a lack of resistance as some 24 million men successfully registered for the draft and some 4 million served. However, this cooperation should not be overstated, since resistance did occur. Between 2.4 and 3.6 million men refused to register and another 337,649 either did not present themselves for induction centers or ran away from training camps. In the American South, lack of support for Wilson’s patriotic draft methods was “sizable,” and “bands of white men” hid out in “mountains, forests, and swamps” to avoid service.[9] World War I conscription helped to redefine civil-military relations. Despite the “localization” of the selective service procedure, the draft increased the power of the U.S. government and created a closer relationship between civilian and federal entities involved in the process. The war also drove the volatile debate over ethnicity, race, and military service to a national level.

Mobilizing Public Opinion↑

The 1916 Democratic Party’s presidential re-election campaign praised Wilson for keeping the nation out of war. This reflected the view of many Americans who thought that the United States should avoid the European conflict. However, by April 1917, with America now part of the Allied war effort, the nation’s home front experienced its own battle – “the fight for the minds of men [and] for the ‘conquest of their convictions.’”[10] During World War I, the U.S. government conducted an elaborate propaganda effort, since U.S. leaders regarded a mass propaganda campaign as an effective tool to unify a reluctant nation behind the war. However, diversity within American society, along with the initially unpopular nature of World War I, brought a new crisis to the United States.

In addition to putting a positive spin on conscription, Wilson charged the Committee on Public Information (CPI) with mobilizing public opinion. Well-known progressive journalist George Creel (1876-1953) headed the government propaganda machine using new advertising and marketing methods and working with a small army of volunteers in an attempt to unify the nation in support of the war effort. Creel brought together an impressive group of writers, advertising executives, marketing managers, historians, filmmakers, artists, photographers, and entertainers. He asked the group to educate the public about the conflict, appeal to the emotions and patriotism of the people, and generally sell the war. CPI’s Speakers Division included some 75,000 local volunteers called Four Minute Men who gave hundreds of thousands of short patriotic speeches and delivered stories of alleged German atrocities before social gatherings, civic meetings, and motion-picture features. The American Protection League (APL) – an extremist volunteer civilian organization with over 250,000 members - worked with the Justice Department as loyalty watchdogs, reporting supposed dissent or any “suspicious” activities to the U.S. Attorney General. The Liberty Loan Campaign (LLC), closely associated with CPI’s efforts, adopted the dual role of raising money for the war and eliciting patriotic support.[11]

CPI and the LLC also directed their propaganda efforts towards the millions of newly arrived immigrants. Knowing little of the lives, traditions, or politics of ethnic communities, the native-born population also knew little about the immigrants’ views of the war. Long-established preconceptions and prejudices developed into anti-immigrant nativism and turned the drive for patriotism into a drive for Americanism. CPI, APL, and LLC tapped into this nativist strain, demanded “no more hyphens in America,” and asked immigrants to prove their loyalty.[12]

Anti-German propaganda directly affected the large population of Americans of German descent, since the CPI campaign bombarded the public with “evidence” that Germany was a sinister nation based on militarism and was responsible for the current war. CPI pamphlets told of the horrors the Germans inflicted upon the French and Belgian citizens and emphasized the difference between American democracy and German autocracy. LLC posters used animalistic portrayals of the German “Hun” as a predator of children and an abuser of virtuous women. As a result, many German Americans became targets for harassment and violence during the war. Neighbors and APL members’ spied on immigrants, especially German Americans, and sent thousands of reports to the U.S. Department of Justice. In many cities, public orchestras eliminated Bach and Beethoven and museums removed German art. Hamburgers, sauerkraut, and German measles became liberty sandwiches, liberty cabbage, and liberty measles, and many American schools banned German language classes.[13]

After the 1917 Communist Revolution in Russia, CPI also attacked Bolshevik philosophy. It instructed the Four Minute Men to emphasize the dangers of Bolshevism as the antithesis of American democracy. CPI pamphlets poured into working-class communities refuting socialist views that the war was a struggle between oppressive capitalist countries at the expense of workers. The U.S. government continued its efforts to stop socialists, pacifists, and other war dissenters from speaking out against the war and the growing loss of American civil rights.[14]

As the war progressed, CPI drifted away from war education and became more of a “crude propaganda mill.”[15] Ultimately, CPI and its counterparts used conformity and fear as finely honed weapons to fuel an already combustible atmosphere. In addition to the Espionage Act of 1917, the Sedition Act of 1918 – which made it a crime to write or say anything against the U.S. government, its flag, or its military – became an instrument used against members of the peace movement, certain ethnic groups, and radicals. The federal government’s reliance on tens of thousands of unsupervised volunteers led to disastrous results. Fueled by super-patriotism, government war propaganda created a jingoistic fever that escalated into mass hysteria. Vigilantism accelerated, and free speech was severely restricted. War time anxiety, anti-radicalism, and xenophobia collated with emotionally charged propaganda and created a volatile and repressive atmosphere. Radicals, pacifists, conscientious objectors, and members of ethnic communities faced imprisonment, harassment, violence, and even death.[16]

America’s centralized wartime propaganda agencies solidified a new working relationship between the federal government and community leaders who marshaled an army of civilian volunteers. CPI’s Creel later bragged that “there was no part of the great war machinery that we did not touch, no medium of appeal that we did not employ… to make our people and all other peoples understand the causes that compelled America to take arms.”[17]


The demobilization of some 4 million American soldiers at the end of World War I occurred simultaneously with widespread social unrest, rising unemployment, and economic hardship characterized by frequent labor strikes and the nation's first Red Scare. Successful solutions to combat the political and economic crisis did not come from the U.S. Labor Department, Congress, or the White House, but from an unlikely source - the U.S. War Department. Its Emergency Employment Committee for Soldiers, Sailors and Marines of the Council of National Defense brought together leading economists and well-educated officers (many with prior business experience) to formulate inventive reemployment strategies.

Although demobilization was under way by January 1919 (mostly men stationed on the home front), some 2 million men still anxiously awaited their homecoming and a return to the job market. Demobilization was not an easy task. The Secretary of War, Newton D. Baker (1871-1937), emphasized that it was important to return the men “back into the normal life of the country without filling the country with unemployed men.”[18] When military units returned to American de-embarkation centers, soldiers were divided into groups based on home territory. The men were deloused, bathed, and inspected before receiving back pay, a bonus of sixty dollars, and a new uniform, shoes, and a coat. Social welfare volunteers took soldiers directly to railroad stations so the men could buy tickets home (at reduced prices).[19]

The military demobilization process had its share of critics in Congress and the press. Communities suffering from the closing of munitions factories objected to the return of soldiers, since the unemployed men would escalate the local economic crisis. Production quickly eroded in most cities and industrial areas that had lost war contracts and now faced escalating unemployment. Although Congress approved the original financing of the U.S. Labor Department’s Employment Service, the agency was struggling by 1919. The Labor Department’s newly created Bureau for Returning Soldiers, Sailors, and Marines proved ineffective due to financial constraints. In March 1919, Congress refused to provide additional funding to the Labor Department’s employment agency citing mismanagement and pro-union influences, thus further reducing its effectiveness.[20]

The nation clearly faced a major crisis. Baker declared that the War Department would intervene, and he approved a massive campaign to find jobs for returning soldiers. At the helm was Colonel Arthur D. Woods (1870-1942), the new Assistant to the Secretary of War. Woods saw the War Department's reemployment efforts “not as a charity..., but as a assist the Government in meeting its moral…obligations to those who have served it so heroically.” In addition to a moral commitment to help returning soldiers, the post-war return of intense labor and capital hostilities also spurred military leaders to act.[21]

The 1919 Red Scare also served as the key motivation for the War Department. Workers’ wartime gains – brought on by labor shortages and lucrative government war contracts – led to temporarily improved wages and labor conditions. This helped fuel an increase in labor union membership. However, the sudden end of the war brought an economic downturn. Worker demands to retain economic advances made during the war and fears of rapidly rising inflation led to widespread labor agitation. Faced with reduction of wages and hours, mounting economic uncertainty, and increasing job competition, workers reacted. In 1919 more than 3,300 strikes involving some 4 million workers plagued post-war America. This widespread labor unrest collided with post-war social stress and the lingering super-patriotic hysteria stemming from a war that demanded total conformity. Unionism became synonymous with radicalism. The harsh and prolonged reaction from the American public and government to the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution in Russia left no room for radicalism, perceived to be on a rapid rise in America. The acute tension in the nation climaxed in 1919 and 1920 when Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer (1872-1936) arrested thousands of suspected communists and deported numerous foreign-born radicals in the legendary “Palmer Raids.”[22]

Assistant Secretary Woods feared that the outcome of labor strikes would create an unstable work place that would prevent the assimilation of soldiers back into American society. With the growing antagonism between capital and labor, Colonel Woods also warned of the impending danger if millions of disgruntled soldiers became tempted by radicals. In March 1919, the War Department estimated that some 3 million discharged men needed assistance securing work. To remedy the situation, the military allowed officers and rank-and-file men to remain in the service - if desired - until the economic situation improved. Woods took the next step in solving the unemployment situation by successfully overseeing the operation of the U.S. Labor Department’s deteriorating Bureau for Returning Soldiers, Sailors, and Marines, located in more than 2,000 cities.[23]

The War Department committee clearly understood that publicity was vital in achieving their goals. With firsthand experience from his days working with the CPI, Woods knew the value of a creative and passionate propaganda campaign. Therefore, both he and his team stepped up efforts by using the same high-pitched, super-patriotic propaganda used by the CPI during the war. Woods’ publicity section used automobile stickers, movie picture-slides, and posters, along with Liberty Loan workers, “Four-minute men” and recruited school children to help spread a strong message that ex-servicemen should be hired as soon as possible. Over 13,000 newspapers published daily press releases and photographs educating the public about the scope of the War Department's new role in finding jobs for soldiers. To appeal to both English-speaking and foreign-speaking communities, the employment team produced booklets, press releases, and other employment information in various languages. Woods’ staff also sent out 2,000 letters a week to companies throughout the nation. The Colonel attempted to “sell” the ex-soldiers as an “excellent buy,” since the returning men were "animated by an elevated spirit of citizenship, “trained by army discipline, and in top physical condition.”[24]

To help convince employers to cooperate, Woods’ team designed an award program directly connected to patriotism. Any business that rehired their former workers after being discharged from the military received a “War and Navy Department Citation.” Similar to the patriotic symbols used during the war, this citation shield – to be displayed in store and office windows or on service flags – showed the public that this employer was doing his duty. Each company or retail merchant also received newspaper publicity – a special thank you from the War Department. By the end of the year, Woods’ team had distributed some 70,000 citations.[25]

Understanding the desire for veterans’ advancement, the War Department began to oversee an “on the job” industrial retraining program to help turn soldiers into skilled workers. In July 1919, Woods and his officers convinced companies to provide returning soldiers on-the-job training in schools that replicated shop conditions. Industrial retraining classes for returning soldiers also took place in more than 300 plants throughout the country that allowed the men to earn a living while learning a new skill. Woods argued that the program benefited both the soldiers and the companies, since it supplied employers with well-trained veterans who were mature, disciplined, and loyal.[26]

Perhaps the most challenging post-war effort was the War Department’s attempt to create new construction jobs and promote public works projects to “stimulate” employment. Invigorating the economy through public works projects served as a way of creating jobs for discharged soldiers. Colonel Woods’ military officers worked with community leaders to help raise funds, engineer contracts, and solve problems – all associated with new public works construction. In addition, Woods’ team publicized a "Spruce-up Campaign" designed to encourage homeowners, industrialists, and storekeepers to make repairs or improvements in order to help generate more jobs.[27]

For the first time in American history, the War Department tried to find jobs for returning soldiers, creating another opportunity for civil-military cooperation. To aid American soldiers, the War Department worked directly with American business owners, local and state leaders, newspaper editors, and community volunteers. The rhetoric of success never matched the reality, but this experience established an important precedent. It would fall upon the military to orchestrate a planned demobilization after World War II that did not unduly disrupt the civilian economy.


World War I created a tremendous strain on American society, as the nation struggled to balance its democratic principles with its need for a national draft and a united home front. American leaders were resolved to find fair and equitable conscription policies. Drafting was complicated by past national experiences and the country’s diverse class, ethnic, racial and ideological makeup. Mobilizing the public in support of the war effort also strained American society and greatly exacerbated animosity toward radicals, immigrants, and pacifists. In its crusade to “save democracy” in Europe, U.S. government policies magnified and ignited local anxieties and subsequently tarnished American democracy. The Espionage and Sedition Acts and the jingoistic fever created by federal propaganda agencies and civilian community assistants became powerful weapons that threatened and even violated American civil liberties. With the Armistice of 11 November 1918, the United States looked forward to a brighter future. But rising unemployment, relentless labor conflicts, and the Red Scare coincided with the return home of some 4 million soldiers. A sense of loyalty to America’s fighting men and a fear that unemployed veterans could become subversives, motivated the War Department to actively find jobs for returning soldiers. Ultimately, issues of class, race, ethnicity, and citizenship made America’s World War I civil military relations – especially those concerning the national draft, mobilization of public opinion, and demobilization efforts -- extraordinarily complex.

Nancy Gentile Ford, University of Pennsylvania

Section Editor: Edward G. Lengel


  1. ↑ Much of this essay comes from two of the author’s books: Ford, Nancy Gentile: The Great War and America. Civil-Military Relations during World War I, Westport 2008; Ford, Nancy Gentile: Americans All. Foreign-born Soldiers in World War I, College Station 2001; Ford, Nancy Gentile: The Espionage and Sedition Acts. Promoting War and Suppressing Dissent in World War I, in: Ford, Nancy Gentile (ed.): Issues of War and Peace, Westport 2002.
  2. ↑ Geary, James W.: We Need Men. The Union Draft in the Civil War, Dekalb 1991, pp. 73-74.
  3. ↑ Schaffer, Robert: America in the Great War. The Rise of the War Welfare State, New York 1991, p. 176; Chambers II, John Whiteclay: Draftees or Volunteers. A Documentary History of the Debate over Military Conscription in the United States, 1787-1973, New York 1975, pp. 206-209, 349-350. For additional information on the World War I draft see: Ford, Nancy Gentile: Drafting and Training Citizen-Soldiers. New Civil-Military Relations, pp. 27-50, in: Ford, The Great War and America.
  4. ↑ Kennedy, David: Over Here. The First World War and American Society, Oxford 1980, p. 153; Schaffer, America in the Great War, p. 176.
  5. ↑ Ford, Americans All 2001, pp. 52-55; Kennedy, Over Here 1980, pp. 150-153; Jennifer D. Keene: Doughboys, the Great War, and the Remaking of America, Baltimore 2001, p. 11.
  6. ↑ Ford, Americans All 2001, pp. 53-58.
  7. ↑ Ibid., pp. 3, 43-66.
  8. ↑ Keene, Doughboys 2001, pp. 83-84, also see: Keene, Jennifer: The Politics of Race. Racial Violence and Harmony in the Wartime Army, pp. 83-104, in: Keene: Doughboys; Johnson, Wray R.: Black American Radicalism and the First World War. The Secret Files of the Military Intelligence Division, in: Armed Forces & Society 26 (1999), pp. 30-3; Also see: Kornweibel, Theodore: “Investigate Everything.” Federal Effects to Compel Black Loyalty during World War I, Bloomington 2002.
  9. ↑ Keith, Jeanette: The Politics of Southern Draft Resistance, 1917-1918. Class, Race, and Conscription in the Rural South, in: The Journal of American History (2001), pp. 1360, 1361, 1336.
  10. ↑ Kennedy, Over Here 1980, pp. 61, 45-92.
  11. ↑ Ibid., pp. 59-68; Farwell, Bryon: Over There. The United States in the Great War, 1917-1918, New York 1999, p. 44; Ford, Issues of War and Peace 2002, pp. 178-200. Also see Vaughn, Stephen: Holding Fast the Inner Lines. Democracy, Nationalism and the Committee on Public Information, Chapel Hill 1980.
  12. ↑ Ibid.
  13. ↑ Ibid.
  14. ↑ Kornweibel, “Investigate Everything” 2002, p. 19.
  15. ↑ Kennedy, Over Here 1980, p. 61; Ford, The Great War and America, pp. 53, 55, 57-59; Ford, Issues of War and Peace 2002, pp. 178-200.
  16. ↑ Rehnquist, William H.: All the Laws but One. Civil Liberties in Wartime, New York 2000, p. 173; Ford, Issues of War and Peace 2002, pp. 178-200. For addition information see Ford, Nancy Gentile: Mobilizing Public Opinion and Suppressing Dissent. Civil-Military Cooperation and Conflict, pp. 51-70, in: Ford, The Great War and America 2008; and Ford, Nancy Gentile: The Espionage and Sedition Acts, pp. 178-202 in: Ford, Issues of War and Peace 2002.
  17. ↑ George Creel quoted in: Ford, Issues of War and Peace 2002, p. 187.
  18. ↑ Baker quoted in: Ford, The Great War and America 2008, pp. 93-94, also see Ford, Nancy Gentile: Demobilization and Reemployment. The War Department Steps In, pp. 93-116, in: Ford, The Great War and America 2008.
  19. ↑ Ibid., p. 94.
  20. ↑ Ibid., pp. 95-97.
  21. ↑ Ibid., pp. 97-98.
  22. ↑ Ibid., pp. 98-100.
  23. ↑ Ibid., pp. 100-102.
  24. ↑ Ibid., pp. 106-106.
  25. ↑ Ibid., pp. 106-107.
  26. ↑ Ibid., pp. 108-109
  27. ↑ Ibid., pp. 109-111.

Selected Bibliography

  1. Capozzola, Christopher Joseph Nicodemus: Uncle Sam wants you. World War I and the making of the modern American citizen, Oxford; New York 2008: Oxford University Press.
  2. Chambers, John Whiteclay: Draftees or volunteers. A documentary history of the debate over military conscription in the United States, 1787-1973, New York 1975: Garland Publishing.
  3. Chambers, John Whiteclay: To raise an army. The draft comes to modern America, New York; London 1987: Free Press; Collier Macmillan.
  4. Clifford, J. Garry / Spencer, Samuel R.: The first peacetime draft, Lawrence 1986: University Press of Kansas.
  5. Cohen, Eliot A.: Citizens and soldiers. The dilemmas of military service, Ithaca 1985: Cornell University Press.
  6. Farwell, Byron: Over there. The United States in the Great War, 1917-1918, New York 1999: Norton.
  7. Ford, Nancy Gentile: Issues of war and peace, Westport 2002: Greenwood Press.
  8. Ford, Nancy Gentile: Americans all! Foreign-born soldiers in World War I, College Station 2001: Texas A & M University Press.
  9. Ford, Nancy Gentile: The Great War and America. Civil-military relations during World War I, Westport 2008: Praeger Security International.
  10. Jacob, James B.; Hayes, Leslie Ann, Inter-university Seminar on Armed Forces and Society (ed.): Aliens in the U.S. armed forces. A historical-legal analysis, in: Armed forces and society 7, 1981, pp. 187-208.
  11. Jenkins, Philip: 'Spy Mad'? Investigating Subversion in Pennsylvania, 1917-1918, in: Pennsylvania History 63/2, 1996, pp. 204-231.
  12. Johnson, Wray R.: Black American radicalism and the First World War. The secret files of the Military Intelligence Division, in: Armed Forces & Society 26/1, 1999, pp. 27-53.
  13. Keene, Jennifer D.: Doughboys, the Great War, and the remaking of America, Baltimore 2001: Johns Hopkins University Press.
  14. Keith, Jeanette: The politics of Southern draft resistance, 1917-1918. Class, race, and conscription in the rural South, in: The Journal of American History 87/4, 2001, pp. 1335-1361.
  15. Kennedy, David M.: Over here. The First World War and American society, New York 1980: Oxford University Press.
  16. Kornweibel, Theodore: 'Investigate everything'. Federal efforts to compel Black loyalty during World War I, Bloomington 2002: Indiana University Press.
  17. Mennel, James, Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, inc (ed.): African-Americans and the Selective Service Act of 1917, in: The Journal of Negro history. 83/3, 1999, pp. 275-287.
  18. Pope, Daniel, University of California, Santa Barbara (ed.): The Advertising Industry and World War I, in: The public historian 2/3, 1980, pp. 4-25.
  19. Salyer, Lucy E: Baptism by fire. Race, military service, and U.S. citizenship policy, 1918-1935, in: The Journal of American History 91/3, 2004, pp. 847-876.
  20. Schaffer, Ronald: America in the Great War. The rise of the war welfare state, New York 1991: Oxford University Press.
  21. Segal, David R.: Recruiting for Uncle Sam. Citizenship and military manpower policy, Lawrence 1989: University Press of Kansas.
  22. Vaughn, Stephen: Holding fast the inner lines. Democracy, nationalism, and the Committee on Public Information, Chapel Hill 1980: University of North Carolina Press.

History taught properly should include a mix of content and process. It is important for students to be introduced to the most important events in Canadian history, but it is equally important that they have an opportunity to practice the historical method. The analytical skills students use when applying the historical method are the skills they need to process information when they read newspapers, watch television, use the internet or even when they interact with other people. A brief summary of the historical method is found in the following pages.

Over the years teachers have experimented with a wide variety of ways to make Social Studies more interesting. One way frequently tried was to use primary source documents to supplement the curriculum. This approach often failed because the documents used were too long or complex, and the biases too subtle for students to detect. The documents were often carefully selected to reinforce the interpretation found in the textbook, rather than to challenge it or to allow students to develop and support their own interpretations.

Many documents focused on constitutional history or other dry issues of little interest to students. There was very little variety in the types of primary sources used, with the emphasis nearly always on written documents. Compilers of the primary sources tended to avoid using the types of sources encountered by people in their everyday lives. Documents with strong points of view or which lacked credibility or reliability were not used, and their use was discouraged by ministry of education officials and publishers.

In an attempt to enliven history, engage students in the historical method, and give them an opportunity to practice critical thinking skills, the Begbie Canadian History Contest uses primary sources which meet the following criteria: they are varied, often visual, encountered in everyday life, reflecting multiple points of view on an issue, often controversial or less reliable, often challenging the textbook interpretation of events, as short as possible, and above all as inherently interesting as possible.

The Begbie Canadian History Contest: Years 1 to 20 data base contains a large number of carefully selected primary sources which enable students to practise the skills historians (and citizens) need when processing information. A detailed index to the data base enables teachers to quickly find a variety of materials dealing with both major and minor events in Canadian history. Strategies for using these materials are grouped according to the different stages of the historical method outlined in the following section.

101 Ideas for Using Primary Sources in the Classroom

The following ideas use primary sources contained in The Begbie Canadian History Contest. Many of the ideas came from my thirty-four years of teaching Canadian History, Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate European History courses. Most would work equally well for other collections.

Points to consider when selecting a teaching strategy:

Primary sources should be used to supplement a unit of study and should not be used in isolation. Historians and students can use primary sources only if they know the context surrounding the source. The activities used will depend on the grade level and abilities of students, the time of year, the students’ experience in using primary sources, the time available, and if the activity is for:
- class work or homework
- individual students, groups of students or the whole class
- assignments, presentations, class discussions or a combination of these
- an assigned set of documents or documents found in a variety of locations
- the beginning, middle or end of a lesson or unit of study.

Questions to use when analyzing any primary source:
(evaluating a source for its reliability and accuracy)

1. Text

What kind of source is it?
What is the source about (people, places, ideas, time or events)?
What point is the source trying to make?
How complete is the source?

2. Context (time and space)

When was the source created: during the event, soon after or much later?
What do we know about the time period in which it was created (the social, political and economic context)?

Where was the source created and under what conditions?
Was the creator of the source close in location to an actual event or in a position to get good secondhand evidence?

3. Subtext (unspoken thoughts and motives)

Who created the source? What credentials does the writer or artist have?
What can we infer about the author’s perspective or point of view (bias) by studying the source?

Why was the source created? For whom? Look for emotionally charged words or devices.
Whose interests does the source serve?
Was it intended to inform, persuade or entertain?
What does the document omit?

4. Inference
How do I know this?
What clues are there?
(conclusion reached on the basis of evidence and reasoning)

Questions to use when analyzing specific types of primary sources:

1. Advertising
What information does the advertisement contain?
What can we learn about society at the time the source was created?
What is the advertisement trying to accomplish (persuade, stimulate, lobby)?
Cite some details from the advertisement that reveal the methods the person who created it used to make it appealing (words, colours, shapes, poses, settings, use of emotion).
Who is the target audience?

2. Artifacts
Describe the artifact in detail.
What was the artifact made from?
What tools and technologies were used in its construction?
Where was it made and where was it found?
When was it made?
Who made it?
What might it have been used for?
What does it tell us about the past?
Why should we preserve it?

3. Autobiographies
The author of an autobiography often puts the best possible light on his or her own role in events, and the passage of time dulls memory. Read the accompanying excerpt from an autobiography. To what extent does this statement about autobiographies hold true for the excerpt?

4. Book covers
Book covers are designed to be eye-catching and to sell books. Evaluate this cover with these two criteria in mind.

5. Debates (House of Commons)
Was the speech directed at constituents or colleagues?

6. Diagrams and charts
What important idea is summarized in the diagram or chart?
How do the individual parts of the diagram or chart support the point being made?
Why was the diagram or chart created?

7. Diaries
What events or ideas are included in the diary?
When and where was the diary written?
Why did the person keep a diary?
Was the diary meant to be personal or private?

8. Editorials and opinion columns
Editorials and opinion columns are subjective, unlike the rest of the newspaper, which is supposed to be objective. An editorial speaks on behalf of the newspaper as an institution and is often influenced by the owner or publisher of the newspaper. An opinion column expresses the personal opinion of the author.
When and where was the newspaper published?
What is the editor’s or author’s opinion?
Does the writer back up arguments with examples?

9. Graphs
Read the title and legend of the graph. The information on the X and Y (horizontal and vertical) axes tells you which sets of information were used to construct the graph. Study the rest of the graph. What can you learn about how these sets of information are related by studying the graph?
Why was this graph prepared?

10. Illustrations
Do a SOAPS analysis of the illustration (Subject, Occasion, Audience, Purpose, Speaker).

11. Leaflets and pamphlets
Leaflets and pamphlets, like political cartoons, are designed to promote one point of view as quickly and efficiently as possible. Instead of using visual devices they use words to make their point. What verbal devices did the author of this leaflet or pamphlet use to communicate a message?

12. Letters
What information is contained in the letter?
When and where was it written?
Was the letter meant to be private or public?
Who wrote it, and to whom was it written?
What was the relationship between the two parties (formal or personal, between equals, between a subordinate and a superior)?
Analyze the point of view of the writer based on the time and events of the period (consider the larger context of local, provincial, country or world events).

13. Magazine covers
What is shown on the cover?
When and where was the magazine published?
Is the magazine cover realistic or romanticized?
What can you learn by studying the cover?
Which cover do you like the best and why do you like it?

14. Study the title, direction, scale and key or legend.
What is shown on the map?
When and where was the map drawn and published?
Why was the map produced?
Who was the intended audience?

15. Monuments, statues and plaques
Monuments, statues and plaques are erected by public and private groups.
Monuments and statues “are sermons in stone.” What was the item in question meant to communicate or commemorate?
What do you think motivated people to finance and create this monument, statue or plaque?

16. Participants and eyewitnesses may misunderstand events or distort their reports, deliberately or unconsciously, to enhance their own image or importance. Such effects increase over time. As Winston Churchill once said, “History will be kind to me, for I intend to write it.” Is there evidence of this in this source?

17. Music
Why was this song or piece of music composed?
Where and when was it published?
Why was it likely written?
What themes dominate a given era?

18. Newspaper headlines
What topic is addressed in these headlines?
Do the words chosen hint at the editor’s viewpoint or position on the topic?

19. Newspaper reports
When and where was the story written?
Who wrote it?
Why did they write it?
Is the reporter objective (does the reporter give a balanced view of the topic and use neutral language)?
Can you find evidence of the newspaper’s economic or political bias?
Do other sources on the same topic support or challenge the view presented?

20. Paintings
Record everything you see in the painting.
What is happening?
When and where did it happen?
When and where was the painting completed?
What can you learn about the time period presented?
Why was it painted?
What doesn’t the painting show?
What happened before and after the scene depicted?
In what ways might this painting differ from a photograph of the same event?
Has the artist romanticized or dramatically portrayed the subject matter?
What feelings do you get from viewing this painting?
What title would you give this painting?
What reasonable inferences can you make from this painting?

21. In order to get students to focus on detail, show them a photograph, painting or poster for two minutes and then cover it. Have the students describe as much detail as they can remember. Show them the image again and have them add any details they missed to their list. Repeat using new images until the students’ ability to recall detail improves.

Why do organizations publish and distribute pamphlets?
Describe the topic addressed by this pamphlet.
Where and when was it published?
Who published it and why did they publish it?

How have humans modified this landscape?
What can we see, experience and learn about past events and people by visiting this site?
What primary sources are needed to provide historical context for the events or people associated with this site?

24. Petitions
Petitions are an effective way of educating people on an issue and lobbying governments between elections. What group of people likely prepared this petition?
Why do you think they prepared it?
Would you have signed the petition? Why or why not?

25. Photographs
What is happening in the photograph (list the details)?
When and where was the photograph taken?
What do you know about the time period and location?
Who is in the photograph and what are they doing?
Was the photograph candid or posed?
What was left out of the composition?
Is this image representative of an era?
Have any features been exaggerated or distorted?
Who do you think took the photograph?
Is there a title and caption? Are they appropriate? Write your own caption for the picture.
Suggest what happened after the photograph was taken.
Is this photograph more or less objective than a written document on the same subject?

26. Select an interesting photograph from Canada’s past. Carefully research the time period and context in which the photograph was taken and recreate the event in costume. Have each person explain what they were thinking when the photograph was taken.

27. Political cartoons
Select two or more cartoons on one topic and:
If the cartoons show the same person drawn by different cartoonists, ask the students to comment on the use of caricature and how the cartoonists have used it in the cartoons. Has the cartoonist exaggerated any physical features of the people in the cartoon?
Analyze the effectiveness of the wording used in each cartoon. Ask the students to describe how words are used to help convey a message.
Note the use of signing (facial expressions, body language, appearance). Can you think of different signing that might weaken the cartoons? strengthen the cartoons?
Identify objects, symbols and attire seen in the cartoon and explain their significance.
Compare the use of stereotypes. Are any of the stereotypes unfair?
Compare the analogies used by each cartoonist. What two things are being compared? Try to come up with a different analogy the cartoonist could have used for each cartoon.
Compare the use of size and/or shading. How does each artist use it to help make a point?
Compare the message of each cartoon. Describe the way in which each cartoonist makes a point. Is there a common theme?
Create your own cartoon on the theme illustrated by the cartoons.
Cartoonists often eliminate everything from their cartoons that is not useful. What is missing from each drawing? Can you find anything that does not have a purpose?
Remove the titles, labels and dialogue from each cartoon. Ask the students to make up their own titles, labels and dialogue.
Remove the citations, then ask the students to place the cartoons in chronological order and attempt to identify the region or country of origin and the political point of view of the artist.
Do the cartoons agree on anything?
Why are there differences in the cartoons?

28. Select and analyze five political cartoons dealing with one event, person or issue.
Which cartoon best exemplifies the features of good political cartooning? Explain.

29. See The Art of Decoding Political Cartoons: a Teacher’s Guide for additional ideas on using political cartoons in the classroom.

30. Polls and plebiscites
Why is it important to know who conducted or commissioned a poll or plebiscite and when, where and why they conducted it?
What conclusions can you draw from this poll or plebiscite?
What is depicted in this poster?
When and where was it created?
What does it tell us about society at the time?
Who published this poster?
Why was it produced: to convey information or to persuade the viewer to follow a particular course of action?
Who was the intended audience?
What was the message of the poster? How is this message communicated?

32. Good poster artists attempt to make their message simple, direct, clear, memorable and dramatic. Has this artist done any of these things? If so, how? Write a paragraph explaining whether or not you think this poster is effective. Support your position by referring to the poster. Create your own poster dealing with the unit of history you are currently studying.

33. Quotations
What are the key words in the quotation?
What do you know about the person making the statement?
What do you think is the main reason for the speaker’s statement?

34. Slogans
Slogans are designed to make a point as clearly and as quickly as possible. In the process they usually reflect the biases or point of view of the group which uses them. Evaluate the effectiveness of these slogans.
What is the song about?
When and where was the song created?
What do we need to know about the historical context in which the song was produced in order to understand and interpret the song?
What does the song tell us about the society and culture in which it was produced?
Who created the song?
Why was it created?

36. Speeches
What is the speaker’s key message?
When was the speech given?
What is the speaker’s point of view?
Who was the audience?

37. Stamps
What topic or theme is illustrated in the stamps?
Why was this theme selected?

38. Statistics
Identify the title, source and date of the statistics. Read the title and column headings in order to get an idea of what is being shown. Look for patterns and trends in the data over time, increases and decreases, similarities and differences.
Who compiled the data?
Why did they compile it?
Is it a reliable source?
Write a paragraph summarizing the conclusions you can draw from the statistics.

Teaching Strategies Using the Historical Method:

The historian selects a subject for investigation

39. Start your class with an interesting primary source on the day’s topic written on the board or projected onto a screen. Students entering your class will know that you will start the lesson with an analysis of the source. This will give the students something to look forward to in your class, challenge them to think critically, and help them focus on the day’s topic.

40. We are the product of our past. Start or end a class with a thought-provoking document designed to trigger discussion on a current event.

41. Assign students a primary source on the next unit of study. Assign questions on the source designed to stimulate student interest and curiosity.

42. Introduce a lesson with one or two primary sources. Have students generate a list of questions about the upcoming topic of instruction suggested by the documents.

43. Use contemporary primary sources to focus attention on an historical period (for example, use an article on marijuana as a springboard into an exploration of Prohibition.

44. Prepare an analysis wall. Use masking tape to attach a few images on a new topic to the blackboard or whiteboard. Give the students some chalk or a marker and ask them to record their impressions of the documents. Allow time for the students to look at and think about the images. Use their comments as the basis for a class discussion of the documents.

The historian collects evidence

45. Have students search for visual documents on one topic (e.g. fashions, propaganda, Prohibition, free trade, role of women, war, personalities, technology, working class, native people, ethnic groups, injustice) and use them to prepare a timeline mural. Each illustration should be labeled with a key question.

46. Select a group of primary sources dealing with a common theme and create a gallery walk in your classroom. Have students circulate around the room until they have had a chance to study each of the sources. Lead a class discussion to find out what the students have learned about the topic. You could also create a stations approach in which groups of documents are placed on tables around the room and students circulate from table to table until they have seen all of the documents.

47. Ask students to select primary source documents to use for a history fair, bulletin board or museum display on an historical topic. Make sure the display has a common theme or thesis which highlights the most important point to be drawn from the primary sources. The title and subheadings should support the thesis and provoke interest in the topic.

48. Have students put together a collection of Canadian primary sources from 1900 to 1970 that focus on Britain and the United States. Ask the students to use the sources to create a collage depicting Canadian attitudes towards these two countries over time. Students should come up with a catchy title for their collection and include some questions to help the viewer focus on the changes over time.

49. Divide your class into two groups. Have one group prepare a display to support the Liberal position and one to support the Conservative position during the 1911 election, the December 1917 election, the Winnipeg General Strike, the flag debate, NAFTA etc.

Prepare captions to go under each source.

50. Have a group of five students select First World War or Second World War posters and memorabilia to use in creating a recruitment booth aimed at getting men and women to join the armed forces. The rest of the class should role play potential recruits. These students could role play an unemployed person, a high school graduate, a longtime resident of Canada, a newly married person, a veteran of the First World War, a married person with two young children, a recent immigrant from the United Kingdom, a Canadian of Jewish or Polish origin, a monarchist, a recent immigrant from Germany, a French Canadian, a native person, a farmer, a munitions plant worker, a Quaker, a peace activist etc. Have the students role play the drama between the people manning the booth and the potential recruits. The recruiters and the potential recruits may want to change roles.

The historian analyses evidence and makes inferences

51. Assign a set of different types of primary sources on the same event. To what extent do the sources agree on what happened? disagree? Suggest reasons for the differences. Divide the class into four groups. Have the students in each group discuss their answers to these questions. Ask each group to present their observations to the whole class.

52. All people who leave a record of an event are unintentionally influenced by their life experiences (biases). A person’s age, sex, occupation, religion, culture, ethnic background, socioeconomic situation, location, influence of family and friends, education, beliefs, values, interests, concerns etc. all shape his or her point of view. Biases are revealed by such things as a person’s position or role in history, use of emotionally charged or loaded words, exaggeration, one-sidedness, and opinions stated as facts. Ask students to examine five different types of primary sources dealing with one topic for clues that help identify each creator’s point of view. Have them state the point of view for each source and support their interpretation with evidence from each document.

53. Select five or more political cartoons on one topic. Can you detect any biases in the cartoons (political, religious, economic, gender, vocational, national/regional/local, ethnic, age, historical influences etc.)? Whose interests are served by each of the cartoons? Support your conclusions by referring to the cartoon devices.

54. Ask students to apply the “time and place rule” and “bias rule” to a set of primary source documents and use them to assess the reliability of the documents. Have them rate the documents from the most reliable to the least reliable and be prepared to support their findings.

The time and place rule says that the closer in time and place a source and its creator were to an event in the past, the better the source will be. Based on the time and place rule, better primary sources (starting with the most reliable) might include:
- direct traces of an event
- accounts of the event, created at the time by firsthand observers and participants
- accounts of the event, created after the event by firsthand observers and participants
- accounts of the event, created after the event by people who did not participate in or
witness the event, but who used interviews or evidence from the time of the event.

The bias rule says that every source is biased in some way. Documents tell us only what the creator of the document thought happened, or perhaps wants us to think happened. As a result, historians follow these guidelines when they review evidence from the past:
- every piece of evidence and every source must be viewed skeptically and critically
- no piece of evidence should be taken at face value; consider the creator’s point of view
- each source and piece of evidence must be cross-checked with related data.

55. Provide students with ten different types of primary sources on a single topic. Using the BC History 12 test for reliability stated below, have them rank order the sources from the most reliable to the least reliable.

Test for reliability for primary sources (the truth and significance of the document)
Is it in accord with known facts?
Is it corroborated by other documents? Are they reliable?
When was the document made?
Who made it?
Was he/she in a position to know?
Was the information hearsay?
Had he/she the capability to form a judgment?
Was he/she a disinterested observer, or did he/she have an agenda?
Did he/she have any unconscious bias?

56. Select five primary sources exhibiting different points of view on a particular issue and have students arrange them in order, e.g.
- prohibition: favouring prohibition to opposing prohibition
- protective tariff: favouring the tariff to opposing the tariff
- First World War: favouring the war to opposing the war
- women’s suffrage: favouring women’s suffrage to opposing women’s suffrage
- conscription: least biased to most biased
- the Depression: left wing to right wing responses
- Canadian foreign policy: favouring isolationism to favouring imperialism.
Be prepared to support the reasons for your arrangement.

57. Select five primary sources dealing with the Riel Rebellion. Have students prepare a set of questions that prosecution lawyers would want to ask a witness at Riel’s trial. Have them prepare a separate list of questions that the defence lawyers would ask about each document when cross-examining the same witness. Better yet, have your students conduct a mock trial of Louis Riel. Have the prosecution and defence lawyers introduce at least one primary source per witness. See The Riel Rebellion: A Biographical Approach and The Riel Rebellion: A Biographical Approach. A Teacher’s Guide for details on how to conduct a mock trial.

58. Select five or more different types of primary sources from the time period you are studying. Remove the citations. Ask the students to analyze the sources, place them in chronological order and determine who created them. Students should be able to defend their conclusions using evidence from each of the documents.
(suggested by Larry O’Malley)

59. Give each student or group of students a different primary source dealing with the same topic. Have the students analyze the document (what, where, when, who, why and how?). Have the students report their findings to the whole class. Invite questions and comments from the class. Students could also make their presentations in the form of a skit, debate, PowerPoint presentation, display, pamphlet or video.

60. To introduce students to a Begbie Essay Question (BEQ), prepare key questions to go with each document in the set. These scaffolding questions should help the students answer the main question posed by the BEQ.

61. Ask students to prepare some scaffolding questions to go with a BEQ.

62. Have students assume the roles of the different historical figures found in a painting or photograph and act out what they think happened before, during and after the event portrayed. Have one member of the class interview the different figures.

63. For a set of BEQs have the students research and prepare a timeline of relevant historical events that took place before, during or after the issue addressed in the documents. The events should be designed to help place the documents in their historical context. It is said that all primary sources show traces of their own times. Ask students to find evidence from each source to support this statement.

64. Select five or more political cartoons on one topic. Describe your emotional reaction to each of the cartoons. How did the cartoonist trigger your emotional reaction?

65. Have students prepare a bulletin board, collage or web site contrasting “The Good Old Days” of the 1920s and 1930s, for example, with “Nowadays.” You can search the section “Questions Using Primary Sources” by decades using the search terms *1920s,*1930s etc. to find suitable primary sources.

66. Select a group of primary sources on one topic. Select the sources so that an equal number come from different regions of Canada; or represent different time periods; or represent different political parties; or represent different economic interests (labour and business; lower, middle or upper class); or represent different national interests etc. (multiple perspectives). Ask the class to sort the sources into different regions, chronological order, political affiliations, economic interests etc. and be prepared to justify their categorization.

67. Select one poster. Explain how the artist used colour, words, images, symbols and the arrangement of items to produce a specific reaction in the viewer.

68. Study one photograph of an historical event. What was the creator’s purpose in taking this photograph? (Look at the subject, colour, gestures, perspective, framing, distance, space and symbolism for clues.)

69. War posters usually appeal to national values, domestic unity or the nobility of the allies, or intimidate though direct threat. Study the posters shown in the Begbie contests. Categorize them according to these criteria, giving the reasons for each of your decisions. Are there any that do not fit into these categories? If so, make up a new category for these posters.

70. Study a Begbie Essay Question. Rate the primary sources in terms of their reliability and usefulness in writing about a topic. Which sources were the most useful? the least? Explain.

The historian selects evidence

71. Prepare a Remembrance Day display case of primary sources to recognize those who served in the Canadian armed forces in peacekeeping and in war.

72. Have students study the primary sources contained in one year of the Begbie Canadian History Contest. Ask them to select three primary sources they think the authors of their textbook should include in the next edition of the book, and give reasons for their selection. Discuss with students why different people chose different points of view.

73. Study a painting, political cartoon and illustration all dealing with the same topic. Write a paragraph on the similarities and differences between the three records. If you were able to use only one of the three to include in a book, which one would you select? Explain.

74. Ask students to decide on five major turning points in the 19th or 20th century and find an appropriate primary source dealing with the event. Students should be prepared to defend their choice of turning points and primary sources. You could also ask students to select the five most important people, major achievements or major disappointments in the last two centuries.

75. Divide the class into small groups. Give each group twenty primary sources on one topic. Tell them that they are on an editorial board which has to choose five sources to illustrate an upcoming textbook on the topic. The students should be prepared to justify their selection. Have each group present and defend their choices to the rest of the class.

76. All history is selective. Historians cannot tell you everything that happened. For example, a historian preparing a book of political cartoons can select from literally millions of cartoons but ends up using a few hundred or less. Find a book of political cartoons in the library, such as Great Canadian Political Cartoons 1915 to 1945. What criteria did the author(s) use in selecting political cartoons for inclusion in the book?

77. Ask students to prepare a slide show of primary sources to illustrate music from a specific time period. Teachers may want to do this themselves to introduce a new unit.

78. Ask students to prepare a desktop documentary on an historical topic and post it on YouTube. Have the students write a paragraph on what they learned about about history, and especially the selection process, from making their desktop documentary. Have the rest of the class view and critique the documentary.

79. “Each time a girl opens a book and reads a womanless history, she learns she is worth less.” (Ladker, 1995) Have the authors of your textbook done a good, reasonable, or poor job of including such groups as women, native people, ethnic minorities or members of the working class?

The historian organizes and interprets evidence

80. Prepare a set of primary sources which illustrate the importance of interpretation in writing history. Give each pair of students a primary source dealing with an important election issue. Have one student interpret the document from a Conservative point of view, and the other from a Liberal point of view (or NDP, Bloc Québécois, or Green). Then have each interpret the document from the opposing point of view. Do the same for sources reflecting other points of view, e.g. male/female, Western Canada/Central Canada, business/working class, Protestant/Catholic, native/non-native, old/young etc.

81. Use the Begbie short answer question that accompanies two or more primary sources to spark a class discussion. You can use the Begbie essay question to do the same thing.

82. Pick five or more different types of primary sources from the time period you are studying. Have students develop a thesis statement which includes supporting evidence from all five sources. Discuss the documents in order of the most supportive to the least supportive of the thesis.

83. Provide students with several different visual documents dealing with the same subject or time period, e.g. a photograph, painting, sculpture, advertisement, poster, cartoon, map, postcard, book cover, illustration or graph. All of these documents have a creator with a point of view. Ask the students to show how the creator’s point of view is revealed by the choice of pose, perspective, framing, distance, language, subject and purpose, and what was included or excluded. Which source did the students find the most credible and reliable?

84. Ask students to prepare a briefing paper for the prime minister at the beginning of the Boer War, the Conscription crisis of 1917, the Winnipeg general strike, the On-to-Ottawa trek, the October crisis of 1970 or the debate on the Kyoto Accord. Provide students with a set of documents on one of the topics. Ask them to analyze the primary sources and propose at least two courses of action for the prime minister and cabinet to consider.

85. For one of the Begbie Essay Questions (BEQ) place each of the documents on index cards. Distribute the cards to groups of two or three students. Each group must then create a statement to support their position on the topic to the rest of the class.
(suggested by Larry O’Malley)

86. Have students use a set of BEQ documents and sources found in the library and/or on the internet to prepare for a panel discussion on the topic. Students on the panel should support different sides of the issue.

87. Provide students with a set of BEQ documents. The first time you use these documents with a class, have the students read the first document and form a temporary hypothesis designed to answer the assigned question. Have students refine or revise their hypothesis based on their study of each subsequent primary source. You could also have students study the documents on an individual basis and compare their hypotheses.

88. “History can be written in one thousand ways.” Select one political cartoon. Ask the students to interpret the cartoon in a variety of ways using major Canadian philosophies of history (good versus evil, struggle for survival, rise and fall of civilizations, progress, colony to nation, Empire of the St. Lawrence, metropolitanism, growth of freedom, biographies of great persons, oppressor versus oppressed etc.). Use this approach with other types of primary sources.

89. Find a primary source that expands on or contradicts a statement in the student textbook. Ask students to defend or refute conclusions drawn by the textbook’s author and search for additional documents that support their conclusions.

The historian writes a history

90. Discuss the difference between primary and secondary sources with your class. Provide your students with the documents from the Begbie Essay Question (BEQ) on the Komagata Maru incident.
(a) Divide the students into groups of four and give each group a large sheet of paper and a felt pen. Ask half of the groups to justify the position of the federal government with respect to the people aboard the Komagata Maru, and ask the remaining groups to justify the position of the people aboard the Komagata Maru who wanted to settle in Canada.
(b) Have students present and discuss their findings.
(c) Have students read pp. 15–19 in Canada in a Changing World History (Desmond Morton), then pose this question: Was the author of the text fair in his description of immigration to Canada in the early part of the century? Ask the students to support their position with specific reference to the various documents handed out and to the textbook. (suggested by Ed Harrison)

91. Provide students with a time capsule containing a variety of primary sources produced during a limited time period. Ask them to write a short essay describing what they learned about the time period from studying the documents. Have them compare their conclusions with the interpretation found in their textbook.

92. Have students study the BEQ dealing with women’s struggle for the franchise and write an essay on the topic. Have the students compare their interpretation with a textbook account of the same issue. Discuss the similarities and differences. (You could do the same thing for most of the BEQs.)

93. Using a set of BEQ documents on a limited topic, ask students to prepare oral reports on the topic. Their presentations should have a thesis.

94. Give the students five to ten documents centered on the life of one person. Ask the students to prepare an obituary or eulogy on the person based on the documents. The article should refer to the person and his or her impact on Canadian history.

95. Select sets of primary source documents which students can use in preparing a “heritage minute” documentary. Have them show the rest of the class their documents and documentary. Have class members critique each presentation.

96. Give groups of students a set of documents on a common theme or issue. Ask them to use the documents as inspiration for writing and performing a short skit or dramatic production designed to interest the class in the topic addressed by the documents. If the students prefer, they could use the documents as a basis for a short article on the issue for submission to Wikipedia.

97. Using a set of BEQs, have a class debate from the point of view of the people at the time. Have the class discuss how choosing a contemporary point of view on the same topic might affect the outcome of the debate.

98. Using a set of BEQ documents or a set of documents on another event or theme, have students prepare an editorial, letter to the editor, political cartoon, poster, pamphlet or other illustration on the issue addressed by the documents that might have been written or produced at the time of the controversy (e.g. the potlatch, Komagata Maru incident, Prohibition, women’s suffrage, Berlin/Kitchener controversy, Battle of Ypres, end of Prohibition, bathing suits, bilingual currency, Jewish immigration, Cold War, Avro Arrow, flag debate, Amchitka nuclear test, discrimination).

99. Have students examine a number of leaflets, pamphlets, advertisements, posters, or paintings etc. from Canadian history. Ask them to list the characteristics of a well-designed item, and design a similar item on a contemporary or historical topic.

100. Have students write an essay on a Canadian historical topic (e.g. the CPR, the Alaska boundary dispute, the Conscription crisis of 1917, relief camps during the Depression, the changing role of women in the 20th century, the October crisis etc.), making use of some of the Begbie contest primary sources.

101. Study one painting of an historical event. An original work of art is a personal interpretation. Describe the artist’s interpretation. What other ways are there of showing this event or scene? If possible find another artist’s depiction of the same event and compare the two paintings.

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