Statue of Joan of Arc in Meridian Hill Park, Washington, D.C.
Credit: Image courtesy of American Memory at the Library of Congress.
Joan of Arc is likely one of France's most famous historical figures, and has been mythologized in popular lore, literature, and film. She is also an exceptionally well-documented historical figure. Available online through EDSITEment resources and links are transcripts of two of her trials and other archival records such as letters Joan dictated. Through such firsthand accounts students can trace Joan's history from childhood, through her death, and on to her nullification trial. Reading the words of laborers, pages, knights, and clerics provides some authentic historical context for a charismatic and complicated figure. Students completing the lesson will better understand Joan's place in the history of the Hundred Years' War: what motivated her, enabled her successes, and brought about her demise and posthumous vindication.
You will be assigning excerpts from the trial transcripts to small groups of students. Allow time in class, or at home, for students to read their assigned excerpts and to prepare members of the group to role-play the person or persons in the excerpt and then, no longer role-playing, to answer questions and/or lead discussion reflecting on the excerpt. Begin by sharing the following brief excerpt with the class: Jean D'aulon: 1456 (Joan's Steward), from the words, "Moreover, that, the next day …" to "from the hands of the enemy …". Note: The "Deponent" is the steward who is giving the testimony. Discuss the information the steward provides:
Now, assign the excerpts you want the students to use.
NOTE: The excerpt titles in the LaunchPads link directly to the page in the transcript on which the excerpt begins. Often, more than one excerpt may be found on that page. Scroll down the page as necessary to find the specific title.
The excerpts from the trial for each group are available here as Student Launchpads. Students should access the links to the testimony for their group, either Group One or Group Two. All of the testimony is available from Saint Joan of Arc's Trials accessible through a link from EDSITEment resource The Labyrinth. Once they have read the excerpts assigned to their group, students should begin by creating a list of questions similar to those given in the example of Jean D'aulon above. Students should be encouraged to seek out both what information is in the excerpt, as well as telling omissions. Students should revisit the questions raised in the previous activity and seek to answer them.
They should also seek to answer more general questions about what these excerpts from the trials tell us about Joan of Arc.
After each account is offered, the group leads the class in briefly discussing the excerpt. Class members point to and discuss testimony they believe reflects on any of the questions students raised. After all of the accounts have been discussed, ask volunteers to suggest one or two exemplary theses they believe answer key questions raised previously. Students should compare and contrast the testimony of the two trials and discuss theses explaining what underlies the differences in their tone and content.
Now each student should develop a thesis in answer to one of the student-raised questions. In the assessment phase of this lesson, this thesis will become the basis of an essay.
In this activity students will be reading two brief biographies of Joan of Arc. The goal is to raise important questions the biographies leave unanswered. While students are reading the biographies you may also find it useful to share with students the Interactive Maps accessible through a link from EDSITEment resource The Labyrinth, which will allow students to follow along with Joan's movements. Depending on the size of your class, have students work independently, in small groups, or in the whole class setting as they read two brief biographies of Joan of Arc. Two biographies of Joan of Arc accessible through links from EDSITEment sources are:
Neither of these biographies is comprehensive and each has a point of view that intrudes on the text. As each biography is read, the students should
Review the basic facts of Joan's life that are common to all of the biographies. Then, compile a list of the questions students have raised. In the whole class setting, take one or two student generated questions and discuss the kind of evidence a historian might look for in an attempt to answer the question. For example, to understand how a peasant girl could rally the French forces, it would be useful to have the testimony of someone in the French army speaking about his view of Joan. Reading Joan's words about her military and political strategies would be instructive. If one could find the account of an Englishman defending Orleans, it would be invaluable.
In order to best understand the story of Joan of Arc you may wish to begin by discussing the historical context in which she lived, and the Hundred Years War in which she took part. From the class text or other source, give the students some background on the rather confusing relations between England and France and how they affected conditions in France. You might begin by sharing with the class the brief excerpt from The Treaty of Troyes from Hundred Years War, from the EDSITEment resource Internet Medieval Sourcebook.
Then share the excerpt on the same page about conditions in France.
Ask the students to complete essays supporting the theses they developed using at least some evidence from the firsthand accounts as support. Pose the following questions as guidance:
3 class periods