Introduce the event.
- Briefly set the context for the event by showing a visual such as the detail of Trumbull's painting, which is the right-hand third of the painting (see References). Invite students to comment on the painting and identify the key actions.
Introduce concept: Point of view.
- Discuss the notion of point of view. All observations and opinions are, of necessity, from a point of view with a perspective or set of presuppositions or values. Therefore each side will see the same event differently. Focus the discussion on the following questions:
Are there suggestions that the artist conveys a pro-American point of view in the portion of the painting? (e.g., the noble, brave-looking, almost solitary citizen in the centre of the picture, the large number of British troops that look to be running away)
How might a pro-British painter characterize the battle? (e.g., put the British troops in centre-stage, portray their courage, characterize the battle as a tragic event)
Introduce concept: Bias.
- Solicit student reactions to the following event:
In the United States the Hearst newspaper chain was concerned that an American textbook had a pro-British bias on the Battle of Bunker Hill. In the description of the battle, it is stated that "three times the British returned courageously to the attack." As a result of pressure exerted by the newspaper chain, the textbook was revised to read "three times the cowardly British returned to the attack."
Discuss the notion of bias—that a point of view is unfairly prejudged because of an individual's preference for one perspective over another.
As a further example of a biased point of view, share with students the following descriptions in British newspapers appearing during the Gulf War (Manchester Guardian, February 1991). The left-hand column contains the words used to describe Allied forces; the right-hand column contains the words used to describe Iraqi forces.
Allied forces . . .
Iraqi forces . . .
are cautious and loyal
cause collateral damage
launch first strikes
hold press briefings
are cowardly and blindly obedient
cause civilian casualties
launch sneak missile attacks
engage in propaganda
These accounts are biased because otherwise identical actions are described in significantly different language depending on whether they were performed by "friendly" or "enemy" troops.
Examine the text passage.
- Assign students to read the passage in the text:
In June 1775, British troops attacked American forces defending Bunker Hill, the heights overlooking the city of Boston. The heroic stand of American patriots in this battle inspired the colonists in their struggle for independence.
As a class discuss the following questions:
What words suggest that this battle is seen as a positive event from an American point of view? (e.g., "The heroic stand of American patriots in this battle inspired the colonists in their struggle for independence.")
How might a pro-British historian have rewritten this sentence? (e.g., "The bloodthirsty stand of American rebels in this battle provoked other colonists to undertake further treachery against the British king.")
Introduce concept: Fair-minded or balanced accounts.
- Define and discuss fair-minded or balanced account—that one's observations and opinions can be from a point of view that gives fair consideration to alternative perspectives on the question, i.e., not be biased, not be determined solely by the interests or preferences of the individual offering the observation or opinion, that some points of view are clearly biased and that we should try to consider alternative perspectives impartially before arriving at a final opinion.
Reveal the full picture.
- Present the entire Trumbull painting (available online at http://www.americanrevolution.org/bunksm.html) and compare it to the detail shown earlier. Present or ask students to read Background to Trumbull's Painting (Background Information), which gives an account of the battle and Trumbull's purpose in completing the painting. Notice how the perspective changes between viewing the entire painting or the smaller section. Discuss whether or not the full painting presents a fair-minded account of British-American actions in the battle. As an extension, consider the artist's point of view toward war generally. Present an additional critical challenge: Has Trumbull painted a fair-minded account of the horror and glory of military battle?
Pose the critical challenge.
- Invite students to write a fair-minded account of the battle using the information they have.
Discuss students' accounts.
- Form small groups to discuss students' accounts and then share results with the whole class. Point out that being fair-minded does not mean that we cannot make positive or negative judgements; rather, it means that we must reach these conclusions only after considering all sides impartially and with an open mind. It may be useful to move physically from one position in the room to another to illustrate the different things one may notice when a situation is viewed from different vantage points. A fair-minded account would try to be sensitive to many points of view.