Students learn to recognize implied historical worldviews by looking for clues in traditional folk tales related to a particular country, time period or author.
Introduce a sample folk tale
The purpose of this challenge is to introduce students to the use of historical documents as sources of insights into the worldview of an earlier time. As a demonstration, we will use the folk tale Hansel and Gretel by the Brothers Grimm. You may prefer to use other folk tales for this purpose (see References).
Robert Darnton, a cultural historian, believes that folk tales provide glimpses into the lives of people living in a historical period. The challenge is to understand how people living in those times interpreted or understood the messages in the folk tales because their values and experiences were very different from our values and experiences today.
Hypothesize about worldview
Ask students to read a traditional version of Hansel and Gretel (see References).
For a summary of the folk tale, see Plot Synopsis of Hansel and Gretel (Background Information).
For a discussion of the historical content for this folk tale, see Background to Hansel and Gretel (Background Information).
Invite students, in a whole class discussion or in small groups, to consider what this folk tale suggests about the worldview of the Brothers Grimm:
- Does the folk tale suggest that people are naturally good or evil? What evidence do you have to support your view?
- Does the folk tale contain a message regarding how people should live their lives? Does the folk tale suggest that people should pursue a life of pleasure or a life of work and accomplishments? What evidence do you have to support your view?
- Does the folk tale suggest how people should be treated? Does it suggest that all human beings are deserving of equal and mutual respect, or do some people warrant special privileges? What evidence do you have to support your view?
- What does the folk tale suggest is the individual's role in the world? Do people have a duty to contribute and make a difference or is their primary duty to take care of themselves? What evidence do you have to support your view?
- What does the folk tale suggest is the relationship between the person and societyor authority figures? Are individual rights presented as more important than the rights of society? What evidence do you have to support your view?
- What does the folk tale suggest about human beings' relationship with nature? Is nature to be used to support humans or do humans have obligations to preserve the natural world? What evidence do you have to support your view?
- What does the folk tale suggest about the source of ethical wisdom? Are people turning only to their individual consciences, or do they look to another authority? What evidence do you have to support your view?
To structure their findings, students may use the chart Analyzing Worldview in Exploring Worldview (Support Material).
For a sample of hypotheses that students might offer, see Sample Analysis of Hansel and Gretel (Background Information).
Confirm the implied worldview by analyzing other folk tales
Explain that we cannot be certain that one folk tale is indicative of a prevailing worldview. Invite students to select and analyze other medieval folk tales to confirm the implied worldview of the historical period (see References). Ask students to look for evidence in relation to each of the elements of a worldview.
Suggest that students use the chart Analyzing Worldview in Exploring Worldview (Support Material) to record their analysis.
Share results of analyses of other folk tales
Invite students to work in small groups to determine the extent to which these folk tales present a common worldview of medieval times.
In looking for a common worldview, direct students to consider the evidence for each element of a worldview and to look for discrepancies or contradictions in the folk tales. Invite groups to present their conclusions about the common and inconsistent elements in the worldview reflected in the selected folk tales.
Extension: Research the historical period
Invite students to research the period to develop a more complete understanding of prevalent worldviews. After students research the period, ask them to use this information to confirm or challenge the worldview presented in the folk tale.
Extension: Rewrite the folk tale or create a contemporary folk tale
Invite students to rewrite a medieval folk tale that reflects a different worldview or create a contemporary folk tale that illustrates a worldview.