Religious Conflict and the Search for Historical Explanations

A critical thinking challenge for students, ages 16-18


Early in the morning of February 4, 1880, five members of an Irish immigrant family were murdered in rural southwestern Ontario, allegedly by an armed band of vigilantes from the community. No one was ever convicted of these crimes. While “Who did it?” is the most obvious question here, in an important sense the real mystery is why these crimes happened at all and how we should understand them now.

The Task

In this MysteryQuest, you are invited to take on the role of advisor to a team of historians beginning research on the Donnelly massacre of 1880 in Biddulph Township. You have been asked to examine selected primary and secondary documents for evidence to support one of the key theories about the reasons behind the massacre: it was the result of religious hatred among Irish immigrants who settled the township in the nineteenth century. First, you will be introduced to the idea of causal explanations in history. Then, you will be introduced to the Donnelly massacre and to the three main theories for the conflict. Working individually or with a partner you will examine five historical documents, looking for evidence of religious conflict. You will then prepare a 250-word report for the historians that summarizes the evidence and offers your own conclusion about whether there is enough evidence of religious conflict to proceed with a more detailed search for evidence of this explanation.

continue investigation …

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Original post by Mr. D. Sader

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