Manipulating Literature to Teach History: A Reflection


For my DBQ, I chose the topic of Anne Frank. Her story has reached so many people, young and old. In my opinion, it is a story of youth, resilience, and re-imagining the world for the better. I think that I chose this because I was curious to see how the diary could be used as a primary source material in place of a piece of literature. I look forward to adapting it for a lesson.

It became difficult to find corresponding images for her diary entries that gave students enough information to consider the questions. I found that attaching some sort of outside historical source would perhaps be more helpful. I look forward to finishing our iBook.

One of things that I learned while creating this DBQ is making sure the purpose for students is clearly defined. There are times when we teach that that bright light shines down from above to us teachers in the middle of a lesson and, suddenly, we get a marvelous idea. Then, there are times that we kick ourselves for not planning or reflecting more before the lesson takes place. Knowing your purpose ahead of time may lead to more marvelous ideas; therefore, more fun and excitement for students while learning.

This DBQ is intended for students to be able to use this set of images, concepts, and questions in addition to a Holocaust study or, perhaps, a The Diary of a Young Girl: Anne Frank. It should be used as a supplement resource to any social studies classroom.

This DBQ is part of our class-produced multi-touch iBook. Available free at iTunes.

Image Source

DBQ: An Epic Journey

Uncle Sam "I Want Out"The DBQ assignment turned out to be much more difficult than I had originally intended. I initially wanted to combine the assignment with my fall work sample on the Roman Empire. I set out on a determined path to create a DBQ assignment based on Roman architecture, frescoes, and speeches. It became apparent quite early that this would be difficult. The point of the DBQ assignment is to use a primary source that will help students to answer broad questions about the historical time period in which it is set. These primary sources contain enough information that they alone can be used to answer the questions. This was the most difficult aspect of the project for me. Most of the images I had chosen were great sources about the rise and fall of Rome. However, they all required a lot of background knowledge to answer the questions about them. For instance, a fresco that depicted a Roman trireme manned by foot soldiers was supposed to show the students how the Roman army was used even for naval battles. However, while this was obvious to someone who already knew that fact, it was less clear to someone completely new to the topic. This meant that a student would not be able to answer the questions using just the fresco. I was actually able to use the Roman DBQ assignment for my work sample, in fact it tied really well into my lessons. It was not a true DBQ though, so I created a new one about the civil rights movement and the Vietnam war.

The new DBQ does a much better job of using the documents and songs to generate questions that the students can answer using only the given sources. Despite this, I had trouble coming up with overall questions about the unit. I kept refining the topic until I had a good theme to work with. I was already using some music as evidence, and I added a couple songs to make the music of the time central to the DBQ. This also changed the main idea of the DBQ, which shifted from a focus on the civil rights movement to the general anti-war movement (although civil rights were still very important to the DBQ).

Overall, I learned a lot from this assignment, especially about using documents that are most conducive to the student’s knowledge level. Using a famous or popular document doesn’t really help the student to begin answering questions on their own. It is much more important to use a document that allows the student to be the historian and reach logical conclusions about the time period. I am excited to continue to use DBQ’s to teach students to examine, analyze, and interpret the documents in ways that will engage their critical thinking skills, and let the students do the work of a historian when trying to establish facts and conclusions about the time period.

This DBQ is part of our class-produced multi-touch iBook. Available free at iTunes

Sam Kelley

Image credit: The Committee to Help Unsell the War

Keeping Focus: a Reflection on Writing DBQs


(Link to DBQ: Images and Emotion – World War II Propaganda.)

When I began this project, I expected that choosing documents for a DBQ would be easy, while writing the text and questions to accompany them would require the greater effort.

As it turns out, the effort came in keeping myself terse. The fundamental question in this project was “what do you want the reader to do?” Once I decided that the reader would examine propaganda posters and analyze what emotional impact they had, it became clear that my main task would be curating the posters themselves. Too much text would only distract from the real focus of the DBQ. Thus, I tried to limit myself to minimal introductions to set the frame, and one or two open-ended questions.

It seems to me that simplicity is at the heart of the DBQ format. As long as the reader is oriented, the documents, visual or textual, should speak for themselves. I’ll keep this principle in mind not only when designing formal DBQs in the future, but when presenting primary documents to students in a classroom context.

I’m satisfied with the final project: its narrow focus has allowed it to stake out its own niche. There are many DBQs out there relating to World War II propaganda, but few ask the reader to look across cultures for parallel concerns. Still, this project only scratches the surface: the five propaganda themes I included are hardly the only possible points of comparison. I hope readers find this to be a source of ideas and inspiration for other projects.

This DBQ is part of our class-produced, multi-touch iBook. Available free at iTunes

Image Source: Miami University Libraries

Visions of Freedom: A Reflection


The Liberty Song. Article from page 346 of The Boston Chronicle, Volume 1, Number 38, 29 August – 5 September 1768. Retrieved from

This DBQ explored slavery and the American Revolutionary War through various visions of freedom that existed during the mid- to late-1700s. The idea for this project came from the understanding that oftentimes only one voice is heard in history. That approach, however, does not take into account the full narrative of the time and provides a false reality of important historical events. As a result, the purpose of this project was to provide readers an opportunity to look at central documents in a different light, while at the same time offering a chance to explore documents that may not take a dominant role in many studies of the American Revolution. By the end of the DBQ, readers would have investigated views of freedom between the colonists and the British government, military officers and laymen, and slaves and freemen, building content depth and providing the means to explore many unfamiliar corners of this important event in American history.

Even though the main essential question revolved around what influences visions of freedom, there were many other generative questions that were incorporated into my project.

  • How does individual identity change during times of revolution?
  • How does the political atmosphere of a time change social understandings?
  • What are the motivating factors that lead one to revolt against authority?
  • How do people express their distrust and discontent towards authority?

Because these questions permit the reader to investigate multiple horizons of possibilities, this project fits perfectly into many course and state standard requirements.

In the end, I feel like this DBQ completed my goals to introduce different visions of freedom to the American Revolution story. What I really enjoyed about this process is that it forced me to think deeply about every document that I wanted to add to the project. In order for readers to successfully complete the DBQ, the documents and order needed to be coherent and accessible. This thinking exercise now can be easily translated into the classroom, which I foresee as a priceless skill when I begin to introduce students to primary documents.

This DBQ is part of our class-produced, multi-touch iBook. Available free at iTunes