Role-playing and Online Research as Aids
to Historical Inquiry
Facilitator: Bret Eynon
Acting as students and using an online lesson created
by two American Memory Fellows, participants take the
role of a 19th century American Quaker who needs to
understand Native American - settler conflicts in the
Western territories in order to secure a job as Indian
Agent. We read a fictional letter that sets the stage for
the investigation, review a guide for taking notes on
documents, and break into groups to study the problem
using a pre-selected group of online resources.
Afterward, we reflect as teachers on the value of the
activity and discuss ways of modifying this and other
online lessons for our own students.
At the end of this exercise participants will be able
- Describe the different ways that white settlers,
Native Americans, and American Quakers viewed
19th century conflicts over land and justice;
- Analyze primary documents using a note-taking
guide, and be in a position to modify this guide
for their own students
- Describe the characteristics of online lessons
that make them valuable for students, and also
the potential drawbacks;
- Describe ways of modifying online lessons so that
they are of benefit to their own students
1. Setting the stage: A letter from the Secretary (40
We discuss the purposes of the workshop, and the fact
that we will be working with an online lesson created and
tested by 1997 American Memory Fellows Peter Milbury and
Brett Silva called Reservation
As a group we do the following things:
- Read the
role-play prompt, a letter from the Secretary
for the Bureau of Indian Affairs. This fictional
letter assigns you your role as a Quaker
mediator, and gives you your assignment: to
prepare for an interview for the job of Indian
Agent, by finding out everything you can about
the conflicts between white and Tejano settlers
and native Comanches in the Western territories
during the 1870s.
- Collectively make three lists: What you already
know about the conflicts; What you need
to know in order to be successful in the
interview; and sources you might consult
to find this information.
- Preview the
page of online resources that the instructors
have assembled, offering information on the
perspectives of three groups: white and Tejano
settlers, native Comanches, and American Quakers.
- Preview the Note-Taking
Guide that you will use for analyzing the
documents you choose. We practice using this
guide with an excerpt from a sample document,
"The condition of affairs in Indian
Territory and California. A report by Prof. C.C.
Painter, agent of the Indian Rights
2. Reading and analyzing online resources (40
We will use the jigsaw method to prepare for the
interview. You and a partner will be assigned to research
- the white and Tejano settlers'
perspectives on the conflict;
- Native Americans' perspectives on the
- Quaker Americans' perspective on the
conflict (your own role).
With your partner, go to the
online resources page and scan the documents related
to your assigned group. Select two or three documents
that appear to offer valuable information about your
group's perspective. Print them out, or if you prefer,
read them online.
Analyze the 2 or 3 documents you have chosen using the Note-Taking Guide for each one.
Be sure to take enough notes, or mark the printed text
well enough, so that you will be able to use information
from the documents in preparing for the interview.
3. Preparing for the job interview / sharing
information (40 minutes)
Meet together with the whole group. Each pair takes 5
minutes to summarize for the group the information
gleaned from their documents about the sources of
conflict between Native Americans and white and Tejano
settlers, and possible ways to resolve them. During this
"jigsaw" process, you will take notes on what
the other groups report. At the end we construct an
outline for answering the key interview questions:
- What are potential problems between Comanches and
- What are the past problems and issues?
- What successful and unsuccessful approaches have
been used by other agents?
- How you will effectively protect both the
Comanche and the Texans' lives and property
without stirring up controversy?
- What questions or confusions do you have, and how
might you begin to answer them?
4. Debriefing the lesson (30 minutes)
Take a few minutes to discuss and/or write about the
application of this role-playing and inquiry model in
your classroom and school. You may use these questions as
- What did you learn from this process about Native
American - Euro American relations in the late
- What were the most valuable parts of the lesson?
- What challenges, if any, would your students face
in using this method (or a variation) of
historical inquiry? What do you do in your
classroom to make inquiry activities most
effective? How would you adapt this activity?
- Which online resources were most valuable? Least
valuable? Why? What can we learn from this? How
were online resources organized, presented and
used as part of this lesson? Was this an
effective organization? How might the
organization be modified to make using the