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Week 41: Literacy Onboard

[ View the related 'Weekly Post': Week 41 - Fire! ]

As we have followed the journeys of our nine ships over the past 8 months we have read many journal extracts, letters and diary entries. These primary sources have helped us to understand what life onboard may have been like from the perspectives of the authors. We can also use these texts to examine the literacy skills of the captains, crew members and passengers who used writing to record their experiences. We can also compare the way words and language has been used in these 1836 examples and compare this to the types of writing we do now. This week we will look closely at some primary sources and think about the role of literacy in the lives of those onboard the ships in our story.

"Education', Victorian genre print, 1850

Inquiry Questions:

1. In what ways did passengers and crew need to use literacy skills onboard the ships and during the early days of establishing the colony of South Australia?

2. How did literacy skills vary between passengers? How can we use  the primary sources to learn about the literacy skills of the authors?

3. Whose perspective do we learn about in this week's entries? What other perspectives are there and how might we find out about them?

4. How did Aboriginal people and  English settlers interact and communicate without speaking the same language?

5. How effective are these journal entries in helping us to imagine the experiences of the authors? Which features of the writing are effective in helping us understand what the experiences were like?

Research Topics:

1. How did people learn to read and write in England in 1836? How did this vary between social classes and genders?

2. What types of books did people read in 1836? Which books and authors were the most popular and who read them?

3. How did people use the English language in 1836? How does this compare to the way we read, write and speak today?

Historical Skills:


Historical terms and concepts

Look through this week's journal entries and  think about the words our authors have used? Are there any words you have never heard of ? Are there words that are not used anymore? Why do you think the use of particular words changes over time? Use a dictionary or internet search engine to find out the meanings of any words you aren't sure of.  Make a list of words that you use now that people in 1836 would not have used. Are there words that may have been used in 1836 but with different meanings to the way they are used now?
Historical questions and research
The authors of this week's entries write about a wide range of topics from birthdays and bush fires to first aid emergencies and laws. Imagine you were able to talk to one of the authors. What questions would you ask the author to learn more about the topic they write about this week? Use libraries and internet search engines to explore your questions.
Analysing and using sources
Read through the primary sources from this week's post. Underline any sections or words that you don't understand. Work with a partner to see if you can work out the meaning or message the author intended in these sections. Make a list of things that make it difficult to read and understand diaries and letters written in the past.
Perspectives and interpretations
This week we read about Mary Thomas and Gouger's interactions with and observations of the Aboriginal people living in the area. How do you think the Aboriginal people would have described these interactions?
Explanation and communication
Mary Thomas describes an incident where she couldn't get her cooking fire to light. Some Aboriginal people observed the trouble she was having and helped Mary to build her fire and get it started. This was a new skill for Mary as she wasn't used to cooking outside. We can assume that Mary learned a lot about building fires by watching the Aboriginal people.   If Mary arrived in South Australia today she would need to learn many new skills to set up her home and look after her family. Publish a handbook to help someone like Mary learn some useful new skills.

Activity Suggestions:

1. On November 27th Dr. John Woodforde writes about his birthday celebrations during a 'piping hot' day. Read through Dr. Woodforde's description of his birthday. This would have been his first birthday in South Australia. How do you think Dr. Woodforde would have celebrated his birthday in the previous year back in England? How do you think his birthday in 1836 compared tohis birthday in 1835 and how do you think Dr. Woodforde felt on his birthday? Use your own literacy skills to design a birthday card suitable for Dr. Woodforde's first Australian birthday.

2. Dr. Woodforde tells us about the tea and cake that Mrs Lisson provided for his birthday celebrations.  We assume that Dr. Woodforde means Mrs Lipson as we know she is onboard and likely to have been the person who made tea and sent cake. We also read in Gouger's journal entry that the 'Cygnit' left on November 27th headed to 'Van Dieman's Land' for supplies. We know from other sources that he means the Cygnet and Van Diemen's Land.  Discuss these discrepancies with your partner and give reasons why these names might have been spelt incorrectly by Gouger and Woodforde. Choose another weekly post and look for other examples of names being spelt incorrectly or inconsistently. When using primary sources such as letters, journals and official documents, how can we make an informed decision about which spelling is most likely to be the correct one? Consider the long term consequences of names being incorrectly spelt in primary sources.

3. Imagine that our authors this week are students in your class and their diaries are a writing assignment that will be marked by your teacher. Print out this week's entries and imagine that you are marking them for spelling, grammar, punctuation and writing skills. Mark the pieces of writing and write feedback for each author. How do their writing skills compare? Suggest reasons for the level of literacy skills of the authors.

4. If the authors of this week's posts were embarking on their journeys  today they may have chosen another way to record their experiences. How many ways can you think of to record daily experiences? Write these in a list and choose your favourite one. Use this technique to retell the experiences of one of the authors from this week's blog. Will you use twitter feeds, a blog, pod casts or Face Book status updates?

5. Investigate the style of handwriting that would have been used by people in 1836. Practice this handwriting style. How does it compare to your own writing style? Look through a variety of fonts available on computer word processing programs. Consider what makes a font look like an old style of writing and select your favourite 'old style' font to complete your next written task at school.

6. Use the print out from activity 3 and two different highlighters to show the verbs and adjectives used by Mary Thomas this week. How does Mary's choice of words help us imagine what her experience with the fires was like? Use these descriptions to sketch the scene that Mary describes.

7. This week we have concentrated on the  literacy skills needed for writing. Literacy also includes the ability to read, speak and listen. Create a role play with your group to demonstrate how these various types of literacy skills may have been used onboard one of our ships or after arrival in South Australia.

What if?

What do you think would have happened if nobody onboard our ships knew how write?  How would this have impacted on our ability to learn about the journeys? Suggest other ways that stories of the past can be passed on.

What do you think?

Consider the following statement and form your own opinion:

Writing is a very important skill. People who can write have an advantage over those who can not.


Stay tuned...........................

This week we have explored the literacy skills of our passengers and crew. Next week we will examine the role  that numeracy played on our voyages and during the early days of the South Australian colony.................

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