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Author: Julie L. Holcomb
Title: Susan H. Veccia's Uncovering Our History: Teaching with Primary Sources & David Gerwin and Jack Zevin's Teaching U.S. History as a Mystery
Publication Info: Ann Arbor, MI: MPublishing, University of Michigan Library
May 2005

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Source: Susan H. Veccia's Uncovering Our History: Teaching with Primary Sources & David Gerwin and Jack Zevin's Teaching U.S. History as a Mystery
Julie L. Holcomb

vol. 8, no. 1, May 2005
Article Type: Book Review

Uncovering Our History: Teaching with Primary Sources & Teaching U.S. History as a Mystery

Julie Holcomb

Director of the Pearce Collections Museum

Navarro College

Veccia, Susan H. Uncovering Our History: Teaching with Primary Sources. Chicago: ALA Editions, 2004.  vii + 143 pp. Illustrations, index.  $35.00 (paper) ISBN 0-8389-0862-4.

Gerwin, David and Jack Zevin.  Teaching U.S. History as a Mystery. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2003.  xii + 163.  Bibliography, index.  $19.50 (paper) ISBN 0-325-00398-x.

Uncovering Our History: Teaching with Primary Sources and Teaching U.S. History as a Mystery offer practical advice for K-12 teachers seeking to incorporate primary sources into their curriculum.  Both books are based on the premise that exposing students to primary sources energizes a curriculum that is often a rote memorization of dates and facts.  Packed with resources, activities, and exercises, these slim volumes are a must for any history educator’s bookshelf regardless of where they teach whether it is the classroom or the museum.

David Gerwin and Jack Zevin, two distinguished education professors, outline a unique way to teach United States history in Teaching U.S. History as a Mystery.  History, the authors contend, is best experienced as a series of mysteries, which have “philosophical and value issues embedded in them and may result in a variety of dilemmas.” (2)  In their introduction, Gerwin and Zevin write, “Working through the cases in the this book should foster a thorough and fulfilling realization that at ground zero everybody gets to think for herself or himself leaving you in exhilarating, giddy haste to begin thinking about some interesting problem or issue.”  (2)  Working from evidence (not FACTS), students in grades 7-12 become amateur detectives trying to solve a historical puzzle.  Rather than accepting a series of rote facts about an event such as the Gulf of Tonkin of Tonkin incident, students instead follow a set of clues, make their own observations, and draw their own conclusions.

Gerwin and Zevin ground their book first with a discussion of how to teach history as mystery outlining various levels of mystery ranging from minor to medium to major based on five criteria: comprehension, reliability, viewpoint, solution, and issues.  The authors discuss postmodernism and its affect on the practice of history.  They then present a series of historical mysteries including mysteries about the Vietnam War, women in the Old West, and the case of Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings.  Pedagogically sound, Teaching History as Mystery outlines a fun approach to teaching history.  The tools and methods outlined in Gerwin and Zevin’s book have uses beyond the history classroom.  Educators in history museums would benefit from the tools and methods outlined in this book to enliven tours and discussions of their collections.

Susan H. Veccia’s Uncovering Our History: Teaching with Primary Sources is written with a premise not unlike Gerwin and Zevin’s book though she does not emphasize the “mystery” of history as much.  However, like Gerwin and Zevin, Veccia stresses the “magic” of primary sources in the hands of a creative teacher.  As she writes, “Primary sources can provide the framework for spirited classroom discussions, debates, and projects that will engage students in memorable ways.” (2)  Locating primary sources for the classroom is easier than ever before through online access to the collections of thousands of repositories small and large.  Veccia outlines strategies for locating and using these online resources focusing in particular on the Library of Congress’s American Memory web site.

Veccia’s book is focused on K-12 students with chapters for each level: elementary, middle, and high school ages.  Uncovering Our History is best described as an instructional toolkit for educators seeking to incorporate the vast wealth of primary source material available on the American Memory web site.  In addition to specific exercises using resources on the American Memory web site, Veccia also offers a chapter on professional development for educators using those same materials.  Another pedagogically sound work, Veccia’s slim volume deserves a place on every educator’s bookshelf next to Teaching History as a Mystery.