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In the Classroom

gravestone Research & Investigation Project (RIP):
A Grave Undertaking

A history-based inter-disciplinary unit for eighth grade

Unit Central Question:
How can we use primary source materials to investigate the lives of some people in Deerfield, Massachusetts in the period 1780-1880?

Primary Teacher-Authors
Howard Barnard
, 8th grade History Teacher
Robert Smith, 8th grade English Teacher
Full Curriculum Credits

On this page: Unit At-A-Glance | Introduction | Unit Overview

Unit At-A-Glance (lesson titles link to lessons)

# Lesson Content Covered Skills Covered
1 Forward, Into the Past! During a (virtual) visit to a burial ground, students start to think about the past by viewing tombstones as primary sources.

• map reading
• sketching
• understanding tombstone iconography


Speaking in Grave Tones

A change in attitudes about death took place from the late eighteenth to the early nineteenth century and was embodied in gravestones, literature, and art.

• using tombstones as primary sources for historical research
• reading comprehension (poetry)
• analysis of works of art

3 A Walk Through the Past An intensive analysis of primary sources helps students learn how historians construct a story out of fragments of the past; a discussion of nineteenth century poetry and art leads students to connect art and literature to their place in time.

• using and understanding primary sources in historical research
• reading comprehension (poetry)
• creation of work of mourning art

4 Digging Into the Past Using skills developed in lessons 1 - 3, students research their subjects using a variety of sources and they develop a project to share their learning with their peers.

• using and understanding primary sources in historical research
• creation of a project based on research
• presentation of project

5 A Line Drive Students create a 100 year timeline centering on the life of their research subject and place them in the context of local and national history.

• researching in primary and secondary sources
• creation of a timeline

On this page: Unit At-A-Glance | Introduction | Unit Overview

Generally, eighth grade students are self-aware and increasingly independent. As they mature, they develop a growing ability to think abstractly. This important turning point in cognitive development - the capacity to analyze connections and to infer - is a perfect time to use original research, "the historian's art," as a means to teach subject matter and to practice independent learning skills.

RIP: A Grave Undertaking makes use of students' existing sense of connection to and knowledge of their local community as a jumping off point for the exploration of community and national history. Local history, in particular the history of individuals who once lived in Deerfield, Massachusetts, becomes the window through which students can view larger events and draw inferences about life in earlier times.

In developing this unit, we have tried to make the "process of history" engaging and fun. We ask students to be history sleuths, carefully sifting for clues in a wide variety of two- and three-dimensional primary and secondary sources. Learning to "ask questions" of these sources, and to think carefully about what they can and cannot tell us, encourages students to analyze, extrapolate, and make defensible inferences about the past. Knowledge about the community and the nation in the period of inquiry (1780-1880) is expanded through inter-disciplinary studies, including an examination of selected literature of the period, and an exploration and construction of examples of mourning art.

RIP was developed as a part of the Turns of the Century project, in collaboration with the Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association (PVMA). The unit makes use of the PVMA collections and library and other historic resources in Deerfield. It also builds on the learning resulting from the fifth and sixth grade Turns units. All of the Turns of the Century curriculum units are designed to satisfy grade-appropriate requirements of the Massachusetts History and Social Science Curriculum Framework. This unit also addresses some requirements in the Massachusetts English Language Arts Curriculum Framework.

On this page: Unit At-A-Glance | Introduction | Unit Overview

Unit Overview
The central focus of the Research and Investigation Project (RIP): A Grave Undertaking unit is an exploration of the lives of individuals who lived in Deerfield from 1780-1880. Throughout their investigations of the past, students analyze a variety of primary and secondary sources and material culture to draw inferences about their research subjects, Deerfield's history, and the history of the country during this 100-year period.

The five lessons in this unit take three to four weeks to complete. The specific time frame will depend on the length of time allotted for independent research and for the timeline activity. These are somewhat flexible activities, and can expand or contract depending on the teacher's interest, students' level of engagement, and the time available.

The unit begins with an in-depth exploration of two of Deerfield's old burying grounds, identification of the headstones of students' assigned individual research subjects, and the collection and analysis of information gathered from the stones. A study of the evolution of mourning art enables students to analyze not only the text on the headstones, but also the symbols, materials, and craftsmanship. Information gathered from all of these sources is recorded in a research organizer. Students also create examples of mourning art - a gravestone and a piece of needlework - using their individual research subjects as the focus of the art and employing correct and appropriate text and symbolism.

Following the cemetery research, students will practice reading and analyzing primary and secondary source materials. Directed questions help students examine and analyze sources related to the life of Dr. William Stoddard Williams, a physician who lived and practiced in Deerfield in the late 18th and early 19th century.

Research teams are given packets of source materials, similar to those for Dr. Williams, related to their individual research subjects. Cooperatively, students read and analyze the materials. Following the research, each team creates a project that encapsulates their learning about their research subjects. Projects are then presented and explained to their peers.

The unit finishes with a timeline activity that asks students to integrate their knowledge of their individual research subjects with events and information in national history. By the end of the unit, students have a far greater understanding of the characteristics of life in Deerfield during this 100-year period, and the ways in which national events and ideas influenced the lives of people in their community. They have also gained valuable skills. They understand how to think about history - how to research, question, and make defensible inferences based on their work.

On this page: Unit At-A-Glance | Introduction | Unit Overview | top of page


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