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The Historian’s Toolbox

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1 The Historian’s Toolbox
Discovery, Analysis, Interpretation, Communication

2 What Do Historians Do? Obviously historiography [writing history] cannot be a science. It can only be an industry, an art, and a philosophy – an industry by ferreting out the facts, an art by establishing a meaningful order in the chaos of materials, a philosophy by seeking perspective and enlightenment." - Will and Ariel Durant, The Lessons of History (1968) What Historians Do How They Do It Discover Locate primary sources and ferret out the facts. Analyze Examine primary sources and establish a meaningful order in the chaos of materials. Interpret Explain the meaning of primary sources and seek perspective and enlightenment. Communicate Share insights with others.

3 The Building Blocks of History : Primary Sources
Primary sources are actual records that have survived from the past. They are pieces of information created from direct experience that help us to understand history: letters, diaries, public documents, photographs, remnants of clothing, furniture, tools, coins, and other artifacts. Primary sources are created by people who witnessed or participated in an event and recorded it in some way. This photo was taken about 100 years ago at the turn of the century. It shows Laura May Wilson and her bike. Note: Any item created in the past which provides information about the period is also considered a primary source (e.g., a newspaper advertisement from the 1940s, a political cartoon from the 1920s,or a recipe from the 1800s.)

4 Using Primary Sources The photograph on the left shows Laura May Wilson on her wedding day. Through using documents such as a Certificate of Marriage (below the picture), we can learn more about this event. For example, she was married on March 14, 1917, in Coon Rapids, Carroll County, Iowa. From this document, we also know that her two sisters Hazel and Rhoda witnessed the marriage.

5 Tools for “Doing History” Well


7 Locating Primary Sources
Looking for primary documents is like a treasure hunt. Historians often have to go to many places to collect materials including libraries, museums, government agencies, and historical societies. They even may create their own documents by interviewing relevant people. (Audio and video tapes are primary sources too.) Resources at the Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. 1933 Chicago World's Fair View Book, Boston Museum of Natural History Above (right): 16th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution: Federal Income Tax (1913), National Archives Group Listening to V-E Day Radio Commentary, State Historical Society of Wisconsin, Madison Slaves who fled their masters, 1862, Library of Congress

8 Broadening the Search Today, many historians use digital reproductions of original materials. A digital reproduction is an electronic version of an artifact such as a diary, letter, newspaper clipping, object, or original photograph. Digital reproduction allows the original to be stored, protected, and preserved, while making the resource widely available for study. Photographer Les Goodey creating digital reproductions, The Taylor-Schechter Genizah Research Unit, Cambridge University Library Documents from the Genizah Collection help to shed light on the medieval world. Its 140,000 manuscript fragments are mainly in Hebrew and Arabic.

9 More Examples of Digital Reproductions
The article on the right is a digital reproduction of a newspaper article. The article notes that Mrs. Laura Wilson Anderson had her poems published in The Poetic Voice of America. The original article was scanned. The pictures show the "Always Ready Class" at the Star Methodist Church where Clara May Wilson taught. A number of scans were completed. First, the photo is displayed in a black photo album. The back of the photo was also scanned. The close-ups are of Clara and Glenn Bolger, Mrs. Anderson’s niece and nephew.

10 The Limitations of Digital Reproductions
Reading a scanned copy of the marriage certificate yields similar information to the original. But it doesn't allow us to see the reverse side of the sheet unless that side is scanned too. So the exploration may be incomplete when examining digital reproductions. Some historians also miss the smell and touch of an original item.

11 Some Rules for Transcribing
Transcriptions Many historical primary resources are transcribed into a digital form to make them easier to access and search. This is a diary entry made by Eileen Kinnick on January 1, 1936, when she was 17 years old. A scanned digital reproduction of the diary page is at the top. The transcription is below it. Wednesday, January 1 Up to Edna's all day. Gertrude's, Lillian's and Lucille's and we were there. At nite read book and listened to Gracie Allen. "The Music goes Round & Round." Some Rules for Transcribing Make no attempt to correct spelling or other "mistakes." Use capital letters where the writer used capital letters. Make educated guesses when unsure of a word. However, use brackets [ ] where wording is questionable. If you're unable to decipher the words, indicate [illegible]. Match the punctuation used by the author. You may or may not choose to maintain the formatting of the document such as line breaks.

12 Errors in Transcription
Examine this example from Ruth West's 1920 diary and see if you can identify issues or concerns with transcription. Errors in transcriptions are common.


14 Examining Primary Sources
Historians go to primary sources in search of evidence to answer questions about what happened in the past and why. When working with primary sources, answering a series of basic questions can help us judge their quality and draw more accurate conclusions. The Document Analysis Worksheets on the following pages were developed by the National Archives for educators and young researchers to assist in the evaluation of primary sources of various types. Questions for Analyzing Primary Sources Recommended by the Library of Congress Who created the source and why? Was it created through a spur-of-the-moment act, a routine transaction, or a thoughtful, deliberate process? Did the recorder have firsthand knowledge of the event? Or, did the recorder report what others saw and heard? Was the recorder a neutral party, or did the creator have opinions or interests that might have influenced what was recorded? Did the recorder produce the source for personal use, for one or more individuals, or for a large audience? Was the source meant to be public or private? Did the recorder wish to inform or persuade others? (Check the words in the source. The words may tell you whether the recorder was trying to be objective or persuasive.) Did the recorder have reasons to be honest or dishonest? Was the information recorded during the event, immediately after the event, or after some lapse of time? How large a lapse of time?





19 Interpreting Primary Sources
Interpretation is the process of explaining primary sources by revealing their context, meaning, and significance. Let’s look at an example involving Civil Rights activist Rosa Parks.

20 The Arrest Records of Rosa Parks
The documents shown here relating to Mrs. Parks’ arrest are copies that were submitted as evidence in the Browder v. Gayle case. They are preserved by the National Archives and Records Administration-Southeast Region in East Point, Georgia, in Record Group 21, Records District Courts of the United States, U.S. District Court for Middle District of Alabama, Northern (Montgomery) Division. Civil Case 1147, Browder, et al v. Gayle, et al. This booking photo, taken at the time of Mrs. Parks' arrest, was discovered in July 2004 by a deputy cleaning out a Montgomery County Sheriff's Department storage room.

21 Police Report, December 1, 1955, Page 1

22 Police Report, December 1, 1955, Page 2

23 Fingerprint Card of Rosa Parks

24 Illustration of bus where Rosa Parks sat, December 1, 1955


26 Telling the Story Behind the Primary Sources
Authors Stacey Bredhoff, Wynell Schamel, and Lee Ann Potter studied Rosa Park’s arrest records and combined their new knowledge with what they already knew about the Civil Rights movement and published this article: "The Arrest Records of Rosa Parks." Social Education 63, 4 (May/June 1999):

27 Rosa Park’s Arrest Records
From: "The Arrest Records of Rosa Parks." Social Education 63, 4 (May/June 1999) On December 1, 1955, during a typical evening rush hour in Montgomery, Alabama, a 42-year-old woman took a seat on the bus on her way home from the Montgomery Fair department store where she worked as a seamstress. Before she reached her destination, she quietly set off a social revolution when the bus driver instructed her to move back, and she refused. Rosa Parks, an African American, was arrested that day for violating a city law requiring racial segregation of public buses. Note: In this section, highlighted passages indicate interpretive statements.

28 In police custody, Mrs. Parks was booked, fingerprinted, and briefly incarcerated. The police report shows that she was charged with "refusing to obey orders of bus driver." For openly challenging the racial laws of her city, she remained at great physical risk while held by the police, and her family was terrified for her. When she called home, she spoke to her mother, whose first question was "Did they beat you?"

29 Mrs. Parks was not the first person to be prosecuted for violating the segregation laws on the city buses in Montgomery. She was, however, a woman of unchallenged character who was held in high esteem by all those who knew her. At the time of her arrest, Mrs. Parks was active in the local National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), serving as secretary to E.D. Nixon, president of the Montgomery chapter. Her arrest became a rallying point around which the African American community organized a bus boycott in protest of the discrimination they had endured for years. Martin Luther King, Jr., the 26-year-old minister of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, emerged as a leader during the well-coordinated, peaceful boycott that lasted 381 days and captured the world’s attention. It was during the boycott that Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., first achieved national fame as the public became acquainted with his powerful oratory.

30 After Mrs. Parks was convicted under city law, her lawyer filed a notice of appeal. While her appeal was tied up in the state court of appeals, a panel of three judges in the U.S. District Court for the region ruled in another case that racial segregation of public buses was unconstitutional. That case, called Browder v. Gayle, was decided on June 4, The ruling was made by a three-judge panel that included Frank M. Johnson, Jr., and upheld by the United States Supreme court on November 13, 1956. Judgment After trial on the merits and careful consideration of the evidence therein adduced and after oral arguments and submission of briefs by all parties, the Court, being fully advised in the promises, found in an opinion handed down on June 5, 1956, that the enforced segregation of Negro and white passengers on motor buses operating in the City of Montgomery as required by Section 301 (31a, 31b and 31c) of Title 48, Code of Alabama, 1940, as amended, and Sections 10 and 11 of Chapter 6 of the Code of the City of Montgomery, 1952, violates the Constitution and laws of the United States.

31 For a quiet act of defiance that resonated throughout the world, Rosa Parks is known and revered as the "Mother of the Civil Rights Movement." February 4, October 24, 2005 February 4, October 24, 2005

32 Why Study History? For the Big Payoff…

33 A Lesson from History Even ordinary citizens can serve as agents of constructive change. Conventional wisdom says that if you want to play a significant role in history, you have to do something big. But it's small acts of leadership – refusing to move to the back of the bus, circulating a petition, organizing a strike – that eventually move mountains. Small acts of leadership, not big heroic acts, performed by like-minded people ultimately add up. Small acts of leadership slowly and effectively bring about constructive change – ESM

34 Bibliography "Analysis of Primary Sources." The Historian's Sources. The Library of Congress. 14 Nov <>. District Court of The United States for the Middle District of Alabama-Northern Division. "Browder v. Galye." National Park Service. 22 Dec National Historic Site, National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior. 15 Nov <>. Education Staff. "Document Analysis Worksheets." ARCHIVES.GOV. U.S. National Archives and Records Administration. 14 Nov <>. Education Staff. "Teaching with Documents: The Arrest Records of Rosa Parks." ARCHIVES.GOV. U.S. National Archives and Records Administration. 15 Nov < >. "History and Culture: Questions and Answers." Open Door: Ideas and Voices from MIT Massachusetts Institute of Technology. 15 Nov <>. Lamb, Annette, and Larry Johnson. "Analyzing Primary Sources." E-Scrapbooking. Feb Nov <>. "Using Primary Sources." Do History: History Toolkit. Film Study Center, Harvard University, and Center for History and New Media, George Mason University. 14 Nov <>.

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