history interpretation2

Writing Guidelines

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:

  1. Read the text and underline or highlight the main idea and the main details.
  2. 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!
  3. Write your summary using your typed/handwritten notes. 
  4. 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.

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Questions to ask of any source..
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. What is the message of this source? What is the author describing? What is happening in the text or image? What is the story?
  4. 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.
  5. 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?
  6. 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?
  7. 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.

    Document Interpretation 4: “Hamilton and Jefferson”, & The Masters Class

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    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:

    1. Choose one of the documents below to read from one of the 2 categories.
    2. 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.

    Category 1: Hamilton & Jefferson

     Alexander Hamilton, An opinion on the Constitutionality of an Act to Establish a Bank

    • How does Hamilton’s understanding of what is, “necessary and proper,” in government affect his reasoning?
    • What implications does this argument have regarding the enumerated powers given to Congress in Article 1 of the Constitution?

     The Virginia Resolution and the Kentucky Resolution

    George Washington, Sixth Annual Address to Congress

    • How does Washington defend his actions? What does he cite as the basis of his power to suppress the rebellion?
    • What did Washington ask Congress to do in this address?
    • How did Washington describe those who participated in the rebellion? In your opinion was this a fair assessment? Why or why not?

    Proclamation of Neutrality 

    • Why did Washington refuse to protect any Americans who aided the warring nations?
    • Who were the major belligerents in the European war?

    Thomas Jefferson, First Inaugural Address

    • How is Jefferson’s Inaugural Address a reflection of the, “Revolution of 1800”?
    • What did Jefferson mean when he said, “We are all Republicans we are all Federalist”?

    Category 2: The Masters Class

    George Fitzhugh,  The Blessings of Slavery  Read 29-30 and Chapter XXI (page 294-299)

    • How does Fitzhugh compare slavery of his day to the slavery of ancient Rome and Greece?
    • Does Fitzhugh see race as an important factor in terms of slavery? Explain
    • According to the excerpt, which group is persecuting free white laborers?

    Benjamin Drew, from The Narratives of Fugitive Slaves in Canada Read Mrs. James Steward (pages 41-43) and Mrs. Nancy Howard (pages 50-52)

    • What common experiences do both women report? In your opinion did most slaves share these experiences?
    • Why do you think both women finally settled in Canada? (Consider the year these accounts were published)

    Levi Coffin, Reminiscences of the Underground Railroad in the 1850s Read from 298-301; start at, “I was personally acquainted…”

    • According to Coffin, what precautions or tactics did the Coffins employ to conceal fugitive slaves?
    • Why does Coffin feel that he and his wife were successful conductors on the Underground Railroad?
    • How does Coffin describe the plight of the fugitive slave who fled to Cincinnati?

    Frederick Law Olmsted, from A Journey in the Seaboard States Read: A Tobacco Plantation (Page 88)- Religious Condition (Page 115)

    • What impact do you think writing this made in the pre-Civil War North when it was published? Do you think it advanced or hindered the abolitionist cause?
    • How does Olmstead describe the religious and moral conditions of slaves in the South?
    • Compare the free-labor farm to the slave-based tobacco farm. What are the significant differences as reported by Olmstead?

    An Account of the Late Intended Insurrection Among a Portion of the Blacks of this City Read Red Text Section on page 17

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