One of the most important skills a historian develops is the ability to evaluate historical documents. This evaluation concerns asking questions of the documents that allows a historian to have insight in a particular topic or period being investigated. This week’s documents relate to the weekly module topic. This week’s documents relate to the weekly module topic of culture and cultural interaction. If you still need help prioritizing your questions of the document go to the Document Interpretation Tutorial Page. Use the questions below to learn how to analyze various types of sources and to become an historian yourself.
In this weekly discussion assignment you will need to:
- Choose one of the documents below to read.
- Write a 250-500 word initial post and and present your interpretation of the document and the material you have been introduced to in this module.
Frederick Douglass, Independence Day Speech, “Fellow citizens…” to the end of the section (The Internal Slave Trade)
Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Declaration of Sentiments
- Why would the authors of the Declaration parallel the Declaration of Independence?
- What is their major demand?
- Why would people reject and actively fight against the ideas of this document?
Charles G. Finney, What a Revival of Religion Is (Read only: the last paragraph of the introduction (“It is altogether improbable…cannot contain themselves any longer.”; “What a revival is” section; The third remark at the end, “You see the error of those…damnation of the world”)
- The purpose of the revival was to change the individual and society. What does Finney fear in American society? What changes does he expect tas a result of the revival?
- What does Finney mean by, “excitement”? Why would this concept bother other ministers?
Joshua and Sally Wilson Letters to George Wilson
- What is the picture of the ideal wife portrayed in these two letters? Of the ideal husband?
- To what extent do you think these images correspond to reality for most Americans in the 1820s? To what extent do they correspond to contemporary realities?
Step 1 — Summarizing
A summary is a short paragraph telling what the main idea of a reading/lecture/video is about. These are some basic steps to follow in order to create a summary:
- Read the text and underline or highlight the main idea and the main details.
- Put the text aside and write down the main idea and details in a separate document/on a separate piece of paper. DO NOT LOOK AT THE ORIGINAL DOCUMENT!
- Write your summary using your typed/handwritten notes.
- Check your summary and the original article to be sure you have included only the most important information and that you have not directly copied from the article.
Step 2 — Interpretation
Keep in mind these guidelines for analysis of your document from the Document Interpretation Tutorial.
Questions to ask of any source..
- Who is the author? Who wrote or created this? Is there a single or multiple authors? An author’s identity sometimes helps you answer the later questions.
- What type of source is this? Is it a photograph or a poem? A biography or a government document? This is a simple but crucial step because you must consider what you can expect to learn from the document.
- What is the message of this source? What is the author describing? What is happening in the text or image? What is the story?
- Who is the intended audience? Who is the author addressing? Was the source intended for private or public consumption? Identifying the audience will help you answer the next question.
- Why was this source created? Does the author have an agenda, a larger purpose? Is the author trying to persuade the audience? Is the document or source simply a compilation of facts, or does it include opinion, inference, or interpretation?
- Is this source credible and accurate? Historians must examine every source with a critical eye. What do you know about the author? Does the document make sense? Do the facts presented by the author or what you know about the time period support the thesis, statement, assertion, or story the author is conveying? Why should you trust, or distrust, this source?
- How is this source valuable to me? How does the source relate to other sources from the time period or along the same issue or theme? Does it support or contradict them? Does it repeat information from other sources or add new information? How relevant is the source to your topic of inquiry? Does it extensively cover your topic, or only marginally or not at all? Remember, you should explore enough sources to obtain a variety of viewpoints.