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Farr Darling, Linda. “Using Artifacts to Foster Historical Inquiry.” In The Anthology of Social Studies: Issues and Strategies for Elementary Teachers, edited by Roland Case and Penney Clark, 283-89. Vancouver BC: Pacific Educational Press, 2008.


In this article, Linda Far-Darling writes how historical artifacts can be a “hook” for introducing students to, and keeping them interested in, historical inquiry. She claims students will naturally want to ask questions and know about historical artifacts because they provide a window into the everyday aspects of a historical period. Farr-Darling explains that students’ questions can be harnessed to structure curiosity in a disciplined inquiry about history and historical objects. To support this, she writes about an experience in a third grade classroom when she brought a 19th century darn ball into class and made students guess what it was. She describes how she structured the students’ exuberant questioning into writing down and categorizing questions; recognizing and acknowledging what they do know; and how to write questions as a group to get the most “evidence” from the answer. These steps transformed the students into a “community of inquirers” in which they began “doing history” like historians.

The Anthology of Social Studies is designed for teachers, thus Farr-Darling provides practical tips for incorporating this mode of inquiry into elementary classrooms. First, she provides four criteria for selecting artifacts and stresses that if an object does not fit the criteria or if it is not available, then a photograph of the object will also work. She then provides a point-form list of activities that teachers could do in their classrooms to support historical inquiry, such as an artifact ‘treasure hunt,’ or an artifact timeline. She also provides a chart that teachers can adapt for their classrooms in which students categorize what they know about an object and where they got their evidence from. In sum, this article discusses how historical artifacts can be used to introduce and foster historical inquiry in elementary schools, and provides practical suggestions for teachers to explore how this will play out in their own classrooms.


Samantha Cutrara