The Boston Massacre: Analyzing Bias
Analyze the illustration below that is meant to depict the events of the Boston Massacre. While observing the elements of the illustration, think about where bias may be coming into play. Consider the two "sides" that were at odds during the time of the Boston Massacre and where the event took place.
The Boston Massacre
Background Information
On March 5th, 1770, there was an incident that involved British soldiers and American "patriots." Several Americans taunted British soldiers with sticks, stones, and snowballs to show their disgust towards the British soldiers. British soldiers retaliated to the harassment by firing into the crowd and ultimately killing three colonists and wounding several others. The events that occurred on this day are seen as a major precursor to the American Revolutionary War, since it showed just how strong tensions were between the colonists and the British.
"The Bloody Massacre"
Accession_number: 10.125.103
Dimensions image: 10 1/4 x 9 1/8 in. (26 x 23.2 cm), sheet 11 x 9 9/16 in. (27.9 x 24.3 cm)
Identifier: mma_the_boston_massacre_365208
Medium: Engraving and etching, hand colored
Provenance: H. Eugene Bolles Collection
Donor: Margaret Olivia Sage
Rights Metropolitan Museum of Art Terms and Conditions
Scanner Internet Archive Python library 0.5.1
What: Prints, Etching, Engraving, North and Central America, United States, 1770, Engraving and etching, hand colored, Metropolitan Museum of Art
Where: North and Central America, United States
Accessed from:
Uploaded by: Jeff Kaplan
Answer the following questions based on what you know about the Boston Massacre and observed in this engraving.
What was the first thing you noticed about the engraving?
Who seems to be the aggressor in the engraving above?
Do you think this depiction of the Boston Massacre is accurate? Do you think that bias could be coming into play in this illustration? Why or why not?
Your answer
Instructional Goals
The purpose of this activity is for students to analyze where bias may be coming into play with depictions of historical events. In this engraving, for example, all that is shown is the British aggression against the colonists. However, it is not mentioned that the supposed reason the British released fire into the crowd was that they were being pelted with stones and snowballs by the colonists to begin with.

Question 1: This is meant to be a general observation for what the student noticed at first glance of this engraving. However, seeing as things like the red coats of the British and the smoke from their gunfire is a main focal point of the piece, ideally students will notice these aspects first. This should guide them towards whether or not there is potential bias in this engraving.

Question 2: This addresses the theme of bias a little more directly. Ideally, students should notice that this depiction of the Boston Massacre places all the aggression on the side of the British. This is because one should notice that the colonists are shown as wounded victims, while the British remain unscathed with their guns drawn. This should lead the student to believe that the British are the ones being depicted as the aggressor.

Question 3: This will give students the opportunity to express their impression of the engraving overall. They should take what they already know about the Boston Massacre and combine that with this specific illustration in order to decide if it is accurate. Even if students believe that this is an accurate depiction of the Boston Massacre, ideally students would still draw some sort of attention to the fact that the initial act of aggression - the throwing of sticks and stones - is not shown and the colonists are made to be the victims based off of this engraving.
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