Before embarking on the study of history, understanding how to “do” history can be useful. To most people, the definition of history is simple – it is what happened in the past. However, it is really not that simple. Since we cannot revisit the past (except if you are Dr. Who), the main tasks of the historian is to interpret the artifacts that have been left behind. These artifacts from the past are what historians call “primary sources.” Primary sources are the raw materials of history–original documents and material objects which were created in the past. You have probably experienced primary sources in your own life. For example, many of you have visited museums, and the objects found in a museum are primary source objects – things created by those people living in the past. Another example is a book that may have been assigned in a class like one from Shakespeare or Jane Austin; those too are considered primary sources because they are written by authors from the past.
When historians write about the past, they interpret the meaning of those objects. Interpretations of history are known as “secondary sources” and you have also encountered these in your life. A textbook, for example, is a secondary source because it was written by a historian living today. Other examples of secondary sources (which again, are interpretations of the past) include most history books at Barnes and Noble, documentaries on TV, and even movies (think of Twelve Years a Slave). One of the problems that historians face is the biased nature of sources. It is important to consider who created the object, why they created it, and what message was it intended to convey. Even historians can be biased based on their personal beliefs (politics, religion, race, gender, etc.). A good historian attempts to understand these biases and write accounts that are based on sound logic and supported with evidence (sorry fans of Ancient Aliens, that show doesn’t meet the threshold).
There are two parts to this assignment: an initial posting and a response. You are required to read all of the primary source assigned, take notes, and then present your findings to the class. Here is how it will work:
1. INITIAL POSTING: YOU WILL TAKE ONE POSITION BELOW BASED ON YOUR LAST NAME:
-Last names beginning with A-L: Read Thomas Paine’s Common Sense.-Last names beginning with M-Z: Read Charles Inglis’s The True Interest of America Impartially Stated. If you last name begins with M-Z your initial posting will attempt to convince the American colonies that independence is a terrible idea. You are what they call “role-playing” that you are a loyalist living in 1776. You will read the document by Charles Inglis, then use his arguments to present a compelling case against independence. Your posting should convey at least three of the main themes conveyed by Inglis, as well as include quotes from the reading to illustrate your main points. It should be a minimum of three paragraphs (each paragraph should be a minimum of 5 sentences).