History Facts and Fictions
a Problem-Based Learning Project exploring historical disputes

The Problem:

Three communities claim that they are the founding place of the first Memorial Day. Each town cites historical records and local primary sources to bolster their assertions. Congress even weighed in on the subject. As a Pennsylvanian, who was born near one of the towns, I believe that Boalsburg is the true place.

Some people ask, "Does it really matter who was the first to honor their soldiers?"

There are many disputes about events in history. A surprising number of historic "facts" are actually: a legend, a myth or an outright fiction.


The date of the signing of the Declaration of Independence,

Whether George Washington had a son or wore wooden teeth or chopped down a cherry tree,

Who was the person who was the first President of the United States,

The site, meaning and events around of the first "official Thanksgiving",

The identity of the person who designed/made the first flag of the United States,

Where Abraham Lincoln wrote the Gettysburg Address,

Who actually invented the first flying machine.

The nationality and/or identities of the first invaders of North America

That the Iraq War was related to the attack of the USA on 9/11.

Even today these mistaken stories continue. An example: crediting Bill Gates with inventing the personal computer
and/or the Internet.
He did not invent or develop either one.

Select a dispute about a historic event or urban myth. How can it be resolved?
What is your decision regarding the argument?

Step 1 -

Identify a dispute about events in the past.
Try to explore one related to your community, county, or state.

Step 2 -

Identify what you need to learn regarding the historic event or fact.
Be specific.

Step 3 -

Do the research.
Learn how to research elementary | middle school & high school
Rate your resources regarding how each one provides the most "authentic" proof.
Present your findings to your class.

Step 4 -

Discuss the findings regarding each dispute.
Analyze the evidence. Decide the dispute.
Explain how you arrive at your conclusions.

Extra Effort

Create a plan that would set in place a process for historians to use in the future to decide disputes regarding history.

"That's the spirit of it, whether it's officially documented or not," she said.
"We really don't care if we got the credit elsewhere.
It's what we know from what we've been told, handed down from generation to generation."
Anne Riley, community leader, regarding Memorial Day in Boalsburg, Pennsylvania.

Online Resources: I have collected a set of valuable web sites for doing research regarding history. Use them to get started in your research.
You may also use print resources and video based info. If you use a resource that is not listed here, document it in your cited works (bibliography) at the end of your report.

If a link is broken, use your online research skills to find the site/page. Copy the title of the source. Paste it in a web search engine. Search.

Making of America (MoA) is a digital library of primary sources in American social history from the antebellum period through reconstruction. The collection is particularly strong in the subject areas of education, psychology, American history, sociology, science and technology.

Library of Congress - http://www.loc.gov/index.html

Refdesk.com - History http://www.refdesk.com/history.html

U.S. Constitution online

C-Span Classroom

Take credit and give credit | APA Citations

Local, state, and special interest, historical societies are rich, research resources.

Internet Public Library - http://www.ipl.org/

EDSITEment - The Best of the Humanities on the Web

History Detectives - PBS site

National History Education Clearinghouse

Colonial Williamsburg | Mount Vernon | Sagamore Hill

History Mystery Message

Problem-based learning Index Aligned with Pennsylvania Academic Standards
"Behold the turtle for he does not move forward without sticking out his neck." PBL site
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Posted 6/2006 by Cynthia J. O'Hora, In the spirit of Thomas Paine, released to public domain