Lesson title: Comparing Colonial Advertisements: Elizabeth Murray’s advertisements from 1750, 1751, and 1753
Overview: In this lesson, students will use three primary sources: newspaper advertisements from the Boston Evening Post from 1751 and 1753 and a broadside from 1750. In the colonial period, some merchants and shopkeepers advertised in newspapers. Elizabeth Murray, a colonial Boston she-merchant, wrote brief descriptions of her shop location, goods, and services to spread information about her business to local customers. First, students will examine the advertisements, answering worksheet questions. Then they will use the information gathered to create a compare/contrast chart. The suggested lesson time is about 45 minutes.
Historical background: During the colonial era, merchants had various ways to advertise their merchandise: trade cards, broadsides, and newspaper advertisements. Locations were not listed by street address; instead, a shop’s location was defined by proximity to other well known landmarks or businesses. The lack of addresses can help students to recognize how small colonial communities were and how easily one might walk across a town like Boston.
From roughly the 1740s on, advertisements listed an increasing variety of imported British goods. The differences with modern advertisements are notable; there were few illustrations or decorative elements. As noted in the two newspaper advertisments, items for sale could be listed along with services offered to potential customers. That variety suggests the multiple activities that could take place within a shop, the varied skills of the shopkeeper, and the many ways a trader could seek to earn a living.
Guiding questions: How did shopkeepers try to appeal to potential customers? What types of goods and services did Elizabeth Murray advertise in 1750, 1751, and 1753? What knowledge would customers have needed in order to make use of these forms of advertising? Who were her most likely customers? What do her notices suggest about women's work in the colonial period?
Learning Objective: The student wil analyze and then compare and contrast colonial advertisements from Elizabeth Murray’s shop in 1750, 1751, and 1753, in order to chart colonial economic activities and the content of advertisements.
Activities: Begin this lesson by making copies of the broadside and twoBoston Evening Post advertisements, as well as a copy of the worksheet for each student, all listed in the materials section. The teacher could have an overhead transparency of each item, but the lesson would work best if pairs, or at least small groups, of students had access to the sheets as well as to the transcriptions. Have students read the articles, noting any vocabulary that is challenging. Use a dictionary or the site glossary for definitions of unfamiliar words. Then have students work in pairs or small groups to answer the worksheet questions about the sources.
Assessment: Since this may be one of the first times students have used primary sources, you may want to do this activity together, or at least demonstrate a few points. Students are just beginning to think critically and analyze historical texts. Many students at the elementary level have already engaged in compare and contrast exercises in regard to literature. Doing so with primary sources for history will be new to many of them, but you can build on previously developed skills. Have students create a compare/contrast chart or Venn diagram from information in the broadside and newspaper advertisements.
Extending the lesson: Have students bring in a current advertisement from a newspaper or magazine to compare and contrast elements of advertising between colonial times and modern times. This activity may be done orally or in written form, depending on available time and depth of discussion. Have them notice use of key words, font, merchandise/services offered, illustrations and stores’ location information.Teacher-author: This lesson was prepared by Meri Fedak, Long Beach Unified School District.