Document Type


Publication Date



Library and Information Services



Publication Title

The History Teacher


The "fingerpost" is that ubiquitous hand with one extended finger we have long seen in public places, accompanied by directions such as "to the ladies' toilets" or "exit this way." More recently, that same finger has been widely adopted in electronic media, for the purpose of leading us simply and intuitively to a particular destination that the pointer wishes us to reach. Not all information is so willingly or simply provided, however, and neither is all communication so explicit. In many cases, the signs that can point us in the "right" direction take other more subtle forms, are not designed to be as helpful, or are buried in an avalanche of other indicators. Teaching the skills of reading such communication, examining all evidence in detail, and making an analysis and final decision of direction or fact, therefore, are the vital common goals of many history courses. Likewise, as part of the first-year seminar program at Dickinson College, the course "Tell Me Why: The Role of Information in Society" had the overarching goal to study the history of communication, from the oral tradition to the Internet, and further sought to provide new college students with a fresh opportunity to be trained to search for the pointing finger. Through the use of a mock trial based on their structured reading of Iain Pears' 1998 bestselling period mystery entitled An Instance of the Fingerpost, supplemented with historical background, participants were set to the task of solving a case of murder.1


This published version is made available on Dickinson Scholar with the permission of the publisher. For more information on the published version, visit Society for History Education, Inc.'s Website.