The responses of two particular groups of students—aged 12 and 15—to some of the questions exemplify the kinds of moves students make. (If no age is given for a quotation, the example comes from the younger group.)
You need to be able to see for yourself.
Simon assumed that the painter might have seen the Mayflower before it left England, ignoring the time gap between the painting and the event it depicted. He claimed that “the person who drew the picture knew what the boat looked like because he might have seen it in the port before she set sail for America.” Jennifer, recognizing a time difference, believed there would still be something left of the Mayflower, and was convinced that “the person painting the picture in Source 2 was able to work out what the Mayflower looked like by visiting the remains.” Some 12-year-olds saw that the painter could not have been an eyewitness, but argued that it was therefore not possible to know what the ship looked like. As Adam explained, “The person painting Source 2 wouldn’t have known what the Mayflower had looked like as he wasn’t even there.”
If you weren’t there to see for yourself, then you need access to someone who was.
Typically, many students felt the need to connect the painter with the subject matter of the painting by creating a direct link with an eyewitness. Peter said, ”The painter could have got the information from a person who actually saw the Mayflower.” In saying this, however, Peter stretched the age of the possible witness to an improbable extent to accommodate his thinking, while simultaneously shrinking the amount of time that passed between 1620 and the production of the painting in 1882. “Since it was a hundred years after, there may have been people alive from the vessel to describe it.” The importance to some students of an eyewitness as a way of knowing about the past is clearly considerable.
Contact could be maintained with the eyewitness by means of knowledge handed down through the generations.
Students can, of course, be more realistic about the time difference. Elliot pointed out that the painting “was painted 262 years after the voyage.” He looked for a different kind of link to the original witness, the handing down of knowledge within a linear sequence. He suggested, “It must have been told by the voyagers to their children, and then to their children, and then to their children, what it looked like.” He recognized that this might have created difficulties for the artist and claimed, “The painter is probably drawing partly from what he’s been told and partly from his imagination.” In