The Martha Ballard Case Study is about a tragic assassination of character in an 18th century New England town. This interactive site allows the viewer to browse diaries, newspapers, and town records to decide for themselves what happened and with what justification.
The main learning goal is to provide students with access to a wide variety of primary sources to engage them in historical thinking. More specific goals include: 1) to identify and discuss the various uses of primary and secondary sources of historical investigation: diaries as history and film as historical narrative, 2) to describe the process of historical investigation and identify the different types of primary sources and methods for interpretations in the creation of the Martha Ballard story, 3) to demonstrate an understanding of Maine social and cultural history within a context of American social and cultural history during the 18th and early 19th centuries, 4) to discuss the various social, economic, and cultural aspects of domestic life depicted in the diaries: the status and depiction of women, courtship and marriage, premarital pregnancy, the practice of medicine and midwifery, and the social and economic structure of Hallowell, Maine during the 18th century.
Target Student Population:
High School, College
Prerequisite Knowledge or Skills:
Basic computer skills, the ability to use a mouse, familiarity with navigation commands/icons within a web browser. The ability to read documents and think critically about how to use them to interpret history.
Type of Material:
Tutorial Case Study
Capability to download the plug-ins for viewing documents.
Evaluation and Observation
This is an excellent resource for teaching methods in historical research and writing and the use of film as historical narrative. The site effectively demonstrates a step-by-step tutorial found in the History Toolkit. Links to additional sources found on the PBS website were developed to complement the documentary on Martha Ballard's life. The variety of primary sources provided on the site and the nature of the subject provides teaching opportunities within several different themes: social and cultural history, women's history, 18th century America, medical history, and regional history.
Potential Effectiveness as a Teaching Tool
Various themes are outlined in the teacher's guide with links to additional information. There are some excellent examples of learning activities in the teacher's quide.
The online guide for teachers does not provide criteria or specifically designed lesson plans but rather an outline and suggestions for incorporating the use of the site with the viewing of the documentary. These resources should be posted on the home page. In terms of using student's time effectively, this could be guaranteed if one of the sample assignments was used but it is questionable whether or not students would be able to figure out how to use this site effectively without that guidance. Some of the links need to be better maintained and updated more frequently.
Ease of Use for Both Students and Faculty
Some of the media on the site require additional download time and plug-ins; however, technical help is available with directions for loading plug-ins and viewing documents. Consult "tech help."
Sometimes the navigation proved difficult, as designers did not do a good job of showing you where you were in relation to the rest of the site making it easy to get lost in the documents. This could be problematic for students using the materials in the sense that it could take them too much time to use this site effectively and efficiently. It would be helpful to have a site map represented visually on the home page so that visual learners get a sense of the "big picture" of the site.