Houghton Mifflin Social Studies
Across the Centuries

Retelling Inca History

Objective: Students learn about the benefits and disadvantages of non-written communication by examining and retelling Inca history.

What You Need:

Suggested Time:
2 hours over 2 days

Building Background:
Ask a volunteer to share the story of his or her life with the class. When the student is finished, explain that this method was the same as one used by the Incas' official rememberers to convey the history of the empire. Now ask a second student to retell the same personal story. Ask the class to note any differences between the two versions. Review the events leading to the rise of the Inca Empire in the Andes mountain range of South America. Explain that the Inca arose in the Cuzco Valley around 1200 and continued to expand their empire for the next 300 years. By 1525, the empire stretched from present-day Ecuador to Chile and as far west as Bolivia. The Inca developed a sophisticated infrastructure, economy, and government administration to run the empire. However, Inca society was based on verbal communication as these people never developed a written form of language. Tell students that they will be studying the events in Inca history and playing the role of rememberers in order to convey these events. By telling these stories, students will learn about the difficulties of non-written communication.

What To Do:

1. Print and distribute the Retelling Inca History worksheet. Have students visit their school or local library or use the Internet to research the information they need to complete the worksheet. Students might find the following Internet sites useful:

The Inca Trail and Machu Picchu

Students can participate in a virtual tour of the Cuzco Valley and the Inca Empire through photographs and descriptions of Inca cities such as Machu Picchu.

Ice Mummies

Students can learn about Inca society by examining photos of the well-preserved Inca mummies found in the Andes, and by studying a 1996 archaeological dig in Peru.

2. When the students have completed their worksheets, review their answers with the entire class. Recreate the timeline on the board and ask for volunteers to fill in the correct sequence of events. Encourage students to share any interesting facts they uncovered during their research. If time permits, link Inca history to international events by adding these world events to the timeline.

3. Choose four of the events listed on the worksheet. Have students each choose one event to research. Again, have students use the library or the Internet to find information on their topics. Encourage them to find more than one source about their topic.

4. Tell students that they will each present their topics as a story, in the way that the official rememberers once told of Inca history. Have students present in chronological order with each student taking a turn as the rememberer. Students can use their notes to help them retell the events. Encourage students to note any differences in the presentations of each event.

5. After each event has been presented by all the students who researched it, discuss with the class how the story changed with each presentation. Continue this process for each event until the presentations and discussions are completed. Ask students what might be some of the advantages and disadvantages of oral records and written records. Then ask students how presenting and learning history, without written records, might be difficult.

Ask students to think about what might happen if you removed one group from the presentation. Discuss how this might change our idea of history. Explain to the class that throughout Inca history various rulers deleted certain parts of the story to exclude mention of their rivals or defeats.


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