Thursday, August 14, 2014

Understanding in the Social Studies Classroom

Over the past few months, for the first time, I read Grant Wiggins' book Understanding by Design.

Reading about understanding, obviously, is quite different than writing about it. What does it mean to teach for understanding in the social studies classroom?

I start with an assumption that social studies and history are two different entities, a point I've blogged about. One of the implications of this difference, I think, is that we must always go out of our way to keep an eye on the present day when teaching.

We are not teaching the past for the sake of teaching the past. In fact, I am not even sure we are teaching the past. What, then, are we doing?

My position is that we are using events from the present and past to help students think more deeply about society and the human condition.

As we pursue this goal, the past will occupy much of our time. After all, what alternative do we have? A course focused solely on the day to day news would quite quickly suffer from a lack of context and depth.

We need to start with some big questions: What does it mean to understand society more deeply? How does history help us do this? What does it mean to understand an event? or a person?

Many of us and the curriculum docs that underpin our courses assert that understanding is a major goal. Are we serious when we say this? If we are, we need to consider carefully what we mean and how we can assess whether we are achieving our stated goal.

Social studies teachers will often say they teach topics, such as the French Rev, WWI, or the Cold war. Whether intentional or not, when used in this context, these topics are discussed as if they exist as tangible objects or processes, as if they can be taught the same way you might tell a person about the plot of a tv show or book or how you might show a person how to change a tire or patch drywall.

When a teacher says he teaches World War I, what does that even mean?

We do not teach topics. We teach ideas.

Ok, we teach ideas...

Isn't that just another way of saying we teach facts, true information about past people and events? If that's all we do, can't a book do that much better, or at least similarly well? What do you, the teacher do, that a book cannot?

(As always, more to come...)

Friday, August 8, 2014

Where does the act of teaching begin?

Some brief notes/ideas from my reading of How Students Learn. (ongoing)

Students come to class with preconceptions about how the world works.

This is a huge idea that all teachers must consider.

I am examining this idea from the perspective of a social studies/history teacher.

This idea is likely the most fundamental idea that enables one to teach. You must start by recognizing that each learner is NOT a blank slate. Rather, learners bring a variety of existing ideas into the classroom, wherever that may be. Teachers must decide what to do with these existing ideas, especially since many of them are likely not aligned with the objectives of their teachers, especially given that many disciplinary ideas are not obvious and are, in fact, counterintuitive.

As history teachers, we need to spend a considerable amount of time getting students to expose their existing ideas about how the world works. In our classes we must craft situations that allow our students to reveal their ideas about how the past works, how the discipline of history works, and, more generally, the structures and elements of the social world that students currently inhabit.

So, in sum, the act of teaching must begin by discovering what ideas student already possess about the topics and questions you are exploring. If you do not take this step seriously, there is small chance that meaningful learning will occur.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Comparing historians and poets

What do historians and poets have in common?
Both create.
Historians create accounts of past events and people. To do this, they must make choices about what from the past is worth writing about and take a close look at sources from the past. From there, they construct and refine evidence based arguments about the past.

What does a poet create? A poet creates meaning using language. Though a poet is not tied to evidence and remains of the past the way an historian is, the two create meaning using language.
For our purposes, by focusing on this similarity, we can note a number of useful points about the discipline of history.

For example, historians work with sources. Sources from the past come in a variety of forms. How an historian approaches a source often requires a sensitivity to language and human behavior, both areas that overlap with the work of a poet.

In addition, historians interpret evidence and construct arguments about the past, which then must be interpreted by readers. In this way, there is common ground regarding how a reader approaches a poem and an historical account. Both must be interpreted. Both contain vareid meanings, including revealing much about the author.

Both have to make choices about topic and language use.
What am I going to write about?
How am I going to write about my topic?

Both have readers who make judgements about their creations.

Why is judgement necessary?
The choice to write is purposeful. But, obviously, people write for a variety of reasons. As a careful reader, you need to consider an author’s purpose and factor that into how you interpret a text. Readers sometimes just start reading a text without considering the circumstances surrounding its creation.

Think about the way a person reads a restaurant's menu or an instruction manual. If you approach a poem or an historical account this way, you are going to only derive one superficial layer of meaning, missing many others.

Think of an onion and its many layers. Often the most important layers of a historical account or a poem are beneath the surface, not stated but implied.

Because the author of a poem or an historical account has made so many choices about how they write, readers must consider these choices when forming a judgement about what they have read. The meaning conveyed in a text is not just what’s written on the page.

Historians and those who study literature or poetry are quite aware of this. And you are going to need to practice to learn how to detect this, to derive unstated yet defensible meaning from a text.

Historians and poets tell us something by what they choose to write about and, more specifically, how they write. They also tell us something by what they choose not to write about. Authors also reveal assumptions. Usually you have to infer these from the text. This is called subtext.

In the end, a focus on subtext, in a variety of forms unites historians and the creator of poetry, as well as other forms of literature.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

I remember...

Let's start with an 'I remember' task.

Pick a moment from your recent past. Think about that moment.

What do you remember? Write it down. Notice how the author wrote how she remembered picking up a handful of sand. She proceeded to describe the sand as 'smooth' and 'like hourglass sand'.

Words are your tools. They are going to give you the ability to describe your memories.

For many of you, it will take a bit of effort to say more than 'I picked up some sand'. Not because you can't go further, but because you are not used to being asked to be more descriptive, especially in a social studies class.

Historians not only work with the memories of others, but they also must make choices about how they are going to make connections and how they are going to describe these connections.

What does it tell us that the author is thinking about picking up sand and throwing it in the face of a boy she does not know?

Monday, August 4, 2014

Memory and Our First Text, a poem

Where do we begin? I think where and, more importantly, how we begin this course is key.

In many ways, you should pay attention less to what I say and more to what I do. To what extent are my words and actions aligned?

I have chosen to begin this course with a poem. I stumbled on this poem over the summer when I was actively searching for poems that explored the idea of memory.

Associating history with memory appears to be a natural starting point.

As a group, some of us have better memories than others.

All of us, I am sure, can acknowledge the limits of our memories, as well as the power of memories.

When was the last time you stared at a photograph, wishing you could enter it, even if just for a moment.

The past is an idea. It is no longer, yet it shapes who we are, in ways that we are aware and, often, unaware.

As much as we might hope, our memories are incomplete and often inaccurate.

But if it is a loved one we are remembering or a cherished moment we are reflecting on, we hang on them.

Do we recognize that as we change so do our memories?

Memories are not like photos, fixed and unchanging.

They are more real and frequently less reliable.

The poem we have looked at was composed by a Ms. January O'Neil.  

I wonder when the thoughts in this poem first appeared in her mind. And where and when did she first compose this poem? Did she hand write it? Or type it? How many drafts did she complete before it took its current form?

Though we do not know the author, she is revealing herself to us through this poem. She may also be revealing details about the time period and society she is part of.

I picked a poem, such as this one, because I want us to think about the act of remembering, as well as the act of writing.

So much of what we do in this class is going to revolve around memory and the written word.

(The author reading her poem.)

Sunday, August 3, 2014

An overview of my Western Civ Course

Hello and welcome to Western Civilization. The purpose of this segment is to consider the following questions: What are some of the differences b/t social studies and history? And how will these differences impact how we approach this course?

I suspect that many of you consider social studies and history as synonymous terms. That is, if you asked 50 people what do you study in social studies class, many will say, the past.

And if you asked another 50 people what do you study in history class, the vast majority would give the same answer, the past.

In this class, we are going to make a distinction b/t social studies and history.

While simplistic, let’s define history as the study of the past.

What, then, is social studies? I propose that social studies is a discipline that is interested in people.

Notice that we are not saying people in the past. Or even people in the present. Social studies is concerned with humanity.

To study humanity, we are going to use concepts of the social sciences, such as psychology, economics, anthropology, and sociology.

The textbook for this course is titled Modern World History. And, in many ways, the authors of this text do not present content in a way that is in harmony with the social studies.

That is ok, as long as we do not treat the textbook as the course.

Your schedule says that this is a Western Civilization course.

Many of you who have siblings who are currently attending college or who have graduated will discover that often this course, Western Civ, is offered in two parts, Western Civ I and II.

If you ask people who have taken Western Civ what topics are studied, a variety of topics will be listed, including the Greeks, Romans, the Catholic Church, the French Revolution, the Industrial Revolution, and even World Wars I and II.

This course is more in line with Western Civ II, focusing on the last 5 or 6 hundred years in European history.

If we allow it to, there is a ton of information in this time span that can easily overwhelm all of us.

Though, I propose that by treating this course as a social studies class, as opposed to a history survey course, we can guard against superficially covering a ton of content. Content that will likely disappear from your mind soon after you are tested.

If you surveyed the same people we mentioned earlier, asking them what students typically DO in history or social studies classes, you will likely get a list that includes the following: taking notes, watching videos, multiple choice questions, projects, maps, discussions, and textbook questions.

There is nothing inherently wrong with many of these items, yet we need to be careful that we have a clear purpose for doing ANY of them.

If the overarching purpose of this course is to study humanity, then we need to always frame what we are doing with that in mind.

In this class, you will not study content simply to learn the information you are going to be tested on.

You will examine the world around you to help generate questions. Questions that you will then use as you study the content of the course.

You will examine theories of knowledge. When we say we know something, what does that actually mean? How certain are we in the knowledge we currently possess? And how can we ever know about the past?

You will learn how to analyze arguments and construct and defend your own arguments about the social world.

You will work on developing and refining your communication skills, honing both spoken and written forms of expression.   

You will learn and apply a variety of conceptual tools used by social scientists.

As this course progresses, it is hoped that you will come to appreciate how complex reality is.

Nevertheless, the complexity of the social world is something you have been grappling with since birth. In fact, a class that embraces this complexity is likely to be much more engaging than one that does not.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Argument is at the core of history

You may think of a fight or a debate when you see the word argument. And when you think of history class, with its powerpoints, videos, and dry textbooks, debate may seem the furthest thing from this discipline. Though you may have a difficult time accepting the assertion that historians constantly engage in argument, that’s exactly what they do. Throughout this course, you are going to hone your skills analyzing and participating in argument and debate. As you do this, you will work on improving your thinking, writing, and speaking skills.

What is an argument? In simple terms an argument boils down to this: accept X because of Y. What do historians argue about? Pretty much everything.

For example, what topics are important? Why are they important? What were the causes and consequences of these events? How should these events be described? Are there perspectives being left out, overemphasized?

Remember, the past is not history. This means historians have to decide which topics deserve attention. How is this decision made? Based on what criteria? Once that decision is made, an historian must then decide how to describe a person or event. Again, choices have to be made. And what are these choices based on? Historians construct a version of the past based on their examination of evidence and their point of view. The end result is an interpretation about the past that is inherently debatable.

That argument is at the core of history should make sense when you consider that even when people see the same event they will almost certainly describe it differently. Why are the accounts not identical?

What is history? History is NOT the past.

*I am working on some summary statements that I can use for planning purposes. These statements will represent core understandings that will underpin the lessons in my class. Moving forward, using ideas of backward design, I will craft learning experiences that help students to explore these ideas.

What is history?

With confidence, many eager students will likely say “it’s the study of the past”, as if the past were out there, existing prepackaged and ready to be learned. Is that a satisfactory description of histroy? Make sure to emphasize that history is NOT the past. History is a discipline, a way of approaching the past, a way of thinking, of asking questions and constructing answers about the past.

History is NOT a single story.

Historians create accounts of past events. In fact, we all do. When we talk about history, we typically mean accounts of the past, assertions about what a certain aspect of the past was like and what it means.

Since accounts of the past are not identical, judgments have to be made about these accounts. As you will come to see, our judgments about accounts of the past will be more sophisticated than true vs. false. We are going to explore why accounts of the past differ and what that reveals about the historian and the sources under consideration.

When accounts of the past are juxtaposed, we see that they reveal the perspective of the historian. The past cannot be detached from the person making claims about it. The choices made by an historian shape the account of the past that is presented. Cumulatively, accounts of the past can be viewed as telling different stories about the past. To the extent that there is overlap among the stories told by historians that shows us that historians are frequently working with a large number of facts in common.

Students often incorrectly believe that accounts of the past differ because the historian is working with a different set of facts. With this view, the student may express the idea that there is one true account of the past that, once and for all, will make other accounts unnecessary or irrelevant.

Historians do not work in a vacuum and, depending on the event, many facts will not be disputed. Different accounts of the past reveal differences among historians and the questions they ask, as well as the weight or value they attach to different pieces of evidence.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Source Work: Immigration Affidavit, 1911

One of the traps I find is easy to fall into, and I can see myself doing it here, is moving away from a source before really reflecting on it, especially in the search for additional context or the answer to questions triggered by the source. I want to revisit the original source, with the additional contextual knowledge I now possess, and a set of fresh eyes, listing some of the key points that stand out.

What does this source tell us about 20th century immigration?

-The language of this form is tied to federal legislation that was designed to regulate immigration.

-Controlling or managing the flow of people who seek to live in the United States is a topic that continues to capture the attention of policy makers, the media, and the public.

-The illegal immigration debates of today and the issue of border security can be viewed through a variety of filters, including reactions to Sept. 11, reactions to the most recent recession, long term demographic changes, debates about capitalism.

- Like today, this document, from 1911, must be attached to larger economic, cultural, and political issues. There was a huge movement of people from Europe to the United States during the period of 1901-10, close to 9 million people moved to the US during this time.

-The vast majority were from Europe (graph 1 and graph 2)

-What factors led to the spike in European immigration during this time? Economic and political dislocations often push people to move. Perceived opportunities, especially if family members were succeeding in the US might easily have attracted people to the US.

-This second (?) wave of immigrants, I suspect, can be tied to spike we see during the period 1881-1890.

- Class differences must be considered when examining how immigrants were treated.

- The affidavit refers to 30 people. We were able to find the manifest, listing the names of the passengers that were being referred to. These passengers were in steerage. A series of questions is on the manifest sheet (and here). These questions and the language of the affidavit reveal policy makers concerns about steerage passengers, seeking to enter the US.

More to come....

Join @classroomtools and I in this google group. You can post a source you would like to work with, and we will join you in your analysis.

(yesterday's post on this same source.)

Monday, July 21, 2014

The Google Group, our first source

@classroomtools uploaded this source to the historical source analysis google group. I then provided an analysis of this source, using the prompt and question Bill posed as a starting point:

"This is one of my favorite sources to help students begin to understand some of the issues involved with immigration from Europe in the early 20th century. What does this tell us about turn of the century immigration?"

Here is what I wrote.

The US is often said to be a nation of immigrants. And it is. But not all immigrants are welcome in the United States, a fact that is true today and was true over one hundred years ago. The issue of immigration provides an entry point to explore various aspects of American culture, including competing core values and perceptions about foreigners. This source encourages us to consider immigration laws and how they are enforced as well as the extent to which outsiders could enter and acclimate themselves to the so called land of opportunity.

Written in the precise language of lawyers, this affidavit, signed in the summer of 1911 by Master Officer Roggeveen, provides details about the process of immigration, including its perceived potential to undermine or promote the values of the United States. This document shows us Washington playing a greater role in immigration. As I mentioned above, the affidavit is tied to federal law. We see how those who wrote or supported this source valued self sufficiency and expected it of anyone entering the country. The Master attested that no one on the ship was a "pauper or is likely to become a government charge."

This affidavit is for a vessel that arrived in New York from Rotterdam, Netherlands. It contained 30 people, all of whom were said to have been inspected by the Master Officer and a physician, called a "surgeon". This text illustrates that there were concerns about allowing people into the country who possessed various contagious diseases, such as tuberculosis. This ships passengers, it was attested, were free from any mental, physical, and even moral deficiencies. That some of these defects could be discerned by a physical examination conveys a faith in observation and reflects societal attitudes about the importance of biology in explaining differences in health, well being, and acceptable behavior.

When reading, we are also reminded of various Christian values and their connection to America's social institutions, such as marriage, and social relations. Values such as social stability and authority underpin inquiries into whether any anarchists or prostitutes are on the ship. Practicing polygamists or those who believe in polygamy are also unwanted. In my mind, I associate this with Mormonism, but I am not certain that all polygamists at the time would have been connected with that religion. If so, tensions between these competing religious ideologies are evident in this text.

I want to take a closer look at this:

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Doing History

The historian is no different from anyone else in that she cannot shed her point of view (POV). POV is how a person sees the world. It is the lens of perception that colors and filters how a person interprets. POV is shaped by one's culture, experiences, and values. Historians approach the past from a position in the present. The historian is not a detached observer of the past, simply reporting what happened. Unbiased accounts or so called objective histories do not exist because historians are not able to shed their point of view, and the sources they use to inform their interpretations are colored with the point of view of those who created them in a different time and place.

Newly created sources and sources that happen to have survived for decades or even centuries retain both the intellectual imprints of their creators, as well as the times they were created. This is what makes sources valuable. This is also what makes reading sources an exercise in inference and reading between the lines.

The interaction between the historian and the past is far from simple. Equally complex is the interaction between the reader and the works of historians, and the reader and his attempt to makes sense of original sources, which are fragments of the past.

The sources historians handle to answer their questions about the past will also have been created at particular moments in time by people with particular points of view. How historians approach sources depend on the questions they are asking. As a prerequisite, obviously, the historian always needs to be sure that a source is what they think it is. This is the process of authenticating a source. Is this actually a letter written in 1917 by an English soldier to his mother? The process of authentication is not typically performed by our students, though if you are using sources that have been adapted to modern language or excerpted for brevity, it is necessary to talk to students about this process.

Once a source is determined to be authentic, not to be confused with a determination of primary vs. secondary, a series of questions needs to be asked and answered. Most of the questions you ask are going to be tied to the big question that you are trying to answer. Some general questions that you are going to want to ask of all sources include the following:

What kind of source is this? Is it a letter, a diary entry, a newspaper article, government statistics, another historian’s perspective on this topic?

Why does source type matter? The inferences a researcher derives from sources are shaped by the type of source. First, it is necessary to make sure that the sources you are using align to the question you are researching.

For example, if you are reading soldiers' letters home you must remember that these letters were often read by the military before they were allowed to be sent home. Soldiers were aware of this and often self censored. To pursue a research question about soldiers' attitudes during World War I, you would have to rely on more than just letters. Other writings help to inform this question, including works of fiction such as stories and poems.

If you are looking for evidence of changes in economic conditions in post civil war America, you might look at newspapers or tax data. In both cases, you are not interested in the motivations of the authors of these sources in the same way as you were when reading the soldiers' letters. This is because your research question is different. If you were looking for evidence of anti Semitism in post WWII America and you were examining various newspapers, you would scrutinize much more closely the people responsible for publishing the newspaper and its contents, as well as information about its readers.

And how does the type of source I am reading, in the context of my research question, impact my reading of it?

Keith Barton and Sean Lang remind us that questions about a source's reliability are often misplaced. Reliable for what? Questions about reliability must always be asked in the context of one's research question. Remember, reliability is not the same as authenticity. And, unfortunately, reliability, in the minds of many students, is code for bias. Teachers need to be thoughtful about teaching students that point of view and bias are linked. Reliability, on the other hand, has to do with how well a source informs a research question. A source may be reliable for one research question and unreliable for another. Reading tax data to learn about soldiers' attitudes during a war is an example of using a source in a way that is unreliable in light of the research question.

Other questions to consider...

Under what circumstances was this source created? And how does this contextual information impact how I read this source?

How might I be able to use this source? As evidence of…..

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Summarizing some key points made by Barton

This is an attempt to pull some of the biggest ideas from Keith Barton's text entitled Primary Sources in History: Breaking Through the Myths. (Check out #inquirychat Thurs 7/17 for a Q and A session with Professor Barton!)

Just because students are working with sources does not mean that they are receiving "good history instruction".

You must take a closer look to see what students are actually doing with the sources. In addition, it is necessary to examine which sources the students are using and how the sources tie into the larger course of study. How teachers use primary sources is tied to how they perceive the discipline of history and to how they envision the work of an historian. Some teachers think that students will develop historical understanding from primary source work that is not supplemented by secondary source work, stating or implying that original sources are superior to secondary sources, the sources written by scholars years later. The reality is much more murky.

Since all sources are created for a variety of reasons, it is important to remember that primary sources, sources connected directly to the people or events under study, may not have been created for the purpose of conveying an accurate account of what happened. Historians know this and read sources with a careful eye. If students read primary sources looking to derive an accurate understanding of what happened, what a person was like, or why something happened, then they will be led astray easily.

For example, students turning to the Federalist Papers to learn more about the federalist and anti federalists would walk with away with a skewed view of the debate if this were the only source they examined. The big idea here is that primary sources are not inherently more reliable than secondary sources.

Summing up the above, accounts are created for a variety of reasons. And "some of these reasons have nothing to do with objectivity." Original accounts cannot be read the same way other nonfiction texts might be read.

Later today or tomorrow....
All primary sources are NOT testimony. Testimony is one kind of account.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Making Some Connections

I am sorting out in my mind the ideas of worldviews, point of view, bias, perspective, social constructs...

All of us have a worldview, a broad set of conscious and unconscious ideas and assumptions about the world and how it works.

For any particular topic, we have a point of view that is shaped by our larger worldview, which itself is connected to various social constructs and individual experiences.

Within our point of view on any particular topic, we have certain leanings, or biases, which may be informed or uninformed.

All positions have embedded biases, since they are tied to an individual's point of view, which is part of that person's worldview, which is connected to the larger society and culture.

Worldview-----> Point of View--->Biases about Topic X


People possess worldviews or points or view. Worldviews are not static, yet they are not completely flexible. People are not born with these worldviews. They are learned and shaped by experiences.
Worldviews influence perception, which is the meaning people attach to experiences.
The world is perceived. Meaning is not objective, the same for all people. The meaning individuals attach to experiences can be tied to their worldviews.

Components of a World View 

Ethics- What should I do?
Epistemology- How do I know? (true vs false)
History- Where do I come from? How did we get to this point?
Future view- Where are we headed?

Beliefs- What do I value? How does the world work?

Social Institutions seek to shape worldviews: Family, Government, School, Media

Monday, July 14, 2014

Point of View and Values

In many ways, when you conduct point of view analysis you are basically identifying and labeling what a person values and tying these values to ideas and positions the person holds, or appears to hold. A value is a concern or a priority.

When someone talks or acts, you often need to use their words and actions as a basis for inferring their values. Typically, a person will not say ‘I value x’, but they may say or do something that leads you to believe that they value x. When you read ‘like an historian’, you are looking for clues that you can use to infer values.

Once you read for POV, you will find yourself becoming much more active and engaged than you were prior to adopting this approach. If you are like many students, your old method of reading may have amounted to little more than trying to remember everything you read, which is a futile task.

The more you become comfortable conducting source work, the more you will grasp that studying history is about much more than learning facts for tests. You will start to become sensitive to the philosophical debates and value conflicts that are often at the core of many social issues, in the past and in the present. This, in my opinion, is one of the main reasons there is value in studying the past.

Intro to POV Analysis Using the Editorial Section of a Newspaper

I have been thinking a lot about different ways to help students learn how to conduct point of view analysis, to focus on the unstated, subtext of a source rather than ONLY on what is stated, what is literal.

Throughout our social studies/history courses, students (I hope) will spend considerable time engaging with the text, subtext, and context of various sources.

As an entry point or fairly non threatening activity, you might try something like this.
Find an article in the newspaper that has a point of view that you think is fairly accessible. All sources have POV, though some are easier to detect and articulate than others.

I used this text, which I read on the op-ed page of the Philadelphia Inquirer.

The Prompt: Write 100 words conducting a POV analysis for this source excerpt.
Source: Op-Ed Page, Phila Inquirer, 7/13/2014

Information about the Author: Perry Brown is director of pediatric education at the Family Medicine Residency in Boise, Idaho. He wrote this for the Idaho Statesman.

“There are certain injuries that I, as a pediatrician, would like to see on more kids these days: skinned knees, poison ivy, and blisters.”

Dr. Brown penned an Op-Ed arguing that parents and children need to get outside and play much more than they currently are. As a pediatrician, he is naturally concerned with the health and well being of children. On a daily basis, he sees the adverse consequences of a sedentary lifestyles, the biggest of which is likely obesity. As a result, he believes that  Americans are doing themselves a disservice by not connecting with nature and exercising more. The Dr. values the natural environment, physical activity, and promoting a healthy lifestyle. By getting this piece published in a large newspaper, he is hoping to influence an audience well beyond his medical practice.    

You'll notice that in this exercise students are only being given information about where the source comes from, a sentence about the author, and a sentence pulled from the text. This is done intentionally, for use as an introductory exercise. Over time, you can increase the amount of information students are given in the source excerpts. Also, you will  notice that in my example I increased the font on certain words. These words are helpful triggers when conducting point of view analysis. After students have completed this exercise, have them read the text and discuss the following questions: After reading the text, how would you assess your POV analysis?
Did the author surprise you in any ways?
Did the author make points, use examples that you expected?
Did you read this text differently *because* of the POV analysis?
If so, in what ways?

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Class: One's Relative Position in Society

I am taking a closer look at a New York Times series on Class in the United States, published in 2005. In this overview of the series, the author talks about the invisible, or shadowy, lines that divide us. Depending on the place and time period, the dividing lines may be more or less visible. And the factors that divide may not always be the same.  

I like the metaphors of invisible lines or shadows because it reminds me that we need to dig beneath the surface when thinking about the social world. Whether students are examining sources from the 16th century or the 21st century class is often a useful entry point.  

Additionally, distinctions need to be made about the indicators, or markers, of class and the causes of class divisions. Markers of class include, or have typically included, the way a person dresses, what and where they eat, the kinds of cars they drive, the zip codes they live in, to name a few. Getting at the root causes of class divisions and the factors that maintain and perpetuate these divisions is a much larger, and worthwhile, undertaking.

The times series explores a number of the markers tied to class as well as the connections between class and access to education and health care.

Particularly puzzling, according to the authors, is the disconnect that appears to exist in the United States between perceptions of class and statistics about inequality. They seem to be moving in opposite directions. As the concentration of wealth intensifies, a reality which can traced back to the 1970s, attitudes about class and its perceived relevance seem to be diminishing.      

As history students, it is important that we pay attention to the role that class plays in the sources that we examine. Sources come from people, and people have different points of view, which can often be tied to class differences, to a person’s position in society. Point of view analysis means you are attempting to identify and articulate key factors that may influence an author’s point of view.  

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Human Architect

I used the term human architect (here) to convey the idea that  any  source you examine has been created by a person living in a particular moment in time, place, and socio economic context. It’s your job, as a thoughtful reader, to examine the source in such a way that you can draw inferences about the person who created it and, often more importantly, the time period they were or are living in.  Many students will read sources as content that needs to be learned for a test. Some well intentioned students, if they are interested in more than just the test,  may still read sources too literally, as content that if remembered equals knowledge. Sources must be read for meaning. And to read for meaning, you must ask questions that probe the concepts and structures of a text.   

Point of View

What is point of view?
Point of view is how a particular person sees the world. As history students, learning about point of view is often done by examining sources, both primary and secondary. When you examine a secondary source for point of view, you are engaged in historiography. Primary sources, or sources original to the time under examination, reveal the point of view of the author, which is shaped by the times he or she lives.  

In a podcast by Dr. Darren Reid (audio here) he discusses how virtually any text can be read as an historical text. It depends on how the reader approaches the text. The historian uses questions and a critical, contextual posture when approaching a source. The average reader does not approach texts this way. In this podcast, Dr. Reid focuses on two Superman comics, one from 1938, the other from 2012. In this podcast, Reid points out that comics are texts and all texts reveal information about the times they were created in. Through observations and questions, many of the values and concerns of the time can be teased out of a text.  

(last updated 7/12/14)

Social Web

What’s a *social web? The sources you examine have human architects. As such, these sources contain imprints of the point of view of that person. A social web involves the connections stated and implied in a source. Why are these connections important? What do they tell us? What do they reveal? You can infer relationships when  you examine and consider the social webs documented in the sources you examine. Why are relationships important?

*When I looked up this term, it seems it is commonly used in the context of computing, similar to the term social network.

(last updated 7/12/2014)

Source Analysis


Identify and consider the social web revealed in a source

Whenever a group of people are together, you can analyze their interactions, connections, relations. You can analyze who has power, who does not. What else? You can analyze the culture.

The Social Web in this Source

Author to audience

Father and son
Father and acquaintances/friends
Russian Culture

Social constructions I see in this source involve the roles of father and son. What does it mean to be a father? a son? Also, the idea of education is discussed in this source. What should parents teach their children and how should children be taught?

It's important to think about what a source is and what it is not.

Think of sources as sources of information AND meaning. Sources (there are many different kinds) can be read one dimensionally or multi dimensionally. When you read a source one dimensionally, you are often just pulling the most obvious content, the surface content, from the source and treating that information in a literal manner. Think of how you read a recipe, a menu, or an instruction manual.

Historians read sources, often texts, from many different angles, multi dimensionally.

I am currently reading Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s book a Midwife’s Tale, paying particular attention to how she conducts source analysis.

Taking a closer look at the source excerpt at the top.  

Considering the language of the source

There is a certainty connected with this source. Where does that certainty come from? Is it religious in nature?  Does it represent other core beliefs about children? The Domostroi is a Russian manual, a how to guide that speaks with confidence, asserting that “A man who loves his son will whip him.” Linking love and the violent act of whipping is done by labeling the action as an act of teaching. You are not hurting your child for no reason. You are hurting (presentism?) your child to teach them a lesson, to provide them with a good education.   

What assumptions are embedded in this source?

From my reading of this source, it is reasonable to assert that...
-It is acceptable to whip your child.
-A father’s authority is supreme.
-Children learn best when pain is involved.
-The actions of a child, in the present and future, reflect on the parent. Children's actions may induce joy or humiliation in a parent. A parent is justified in doing all he can to make sure that the child is a source of joy. 
-It is not necessary to use restraint when using force/violence as a method of parenting.

Who would have read a source like this?
The literate who, at this time in Russia, would have been small in number.

What central question(s) does this source address answer?
What’s the best way to discipline a child?
How do parents show their love for children?
How did religion influence these views?

What values are embedded in this source, as revealed by the author? Authority, power of father, education: how children learn,

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Adding another source

Today (yesterdayday before) I will add a  third source to the mix.

Let’s have a look at all three.



Document 5
Unlike the first two sources we looked at, this source is not written from the point of view of a father.  Rather, this source, the Domostroi, is a manual, from the same period of time, discussing discipline. This source, obviously, does involve issues of parenting. More specifically, this source deals with the topic of discipline, advertising the benefits of whipping your son. Fathers are encouraged to whip their sons “often” because whipping will instill discipline in them and cause the child to be a better person. The act of whipping is tied to the concept of education.

When looking at all three sources, what are some ways these sources can be compared and contrasted?

Geography- The sources are from different parts of Europe: Germany, Italy, Russia.

The sources are from early to mid 1500s. Two of the sources are written in the first person voice of fathers.

All three sources involve interactions between fathers and sons. What interactions are discussed?
Document 3
A father...
-living under the same roof as his son.
-writing about his son, reflecting on his progress.
-providing for his son, materially and intellectually.

-details are provided in this source about the child’s house, diet, and education.
-the father has a good job, a member of the elite. He is able to provide ample resources for his children. Indeed, we see evidence of privilege in this source.

Document 4
Like source 3, this source is written in the first person. It is from an autobiography, though, rather than a diary. Obviously, the audiences are different, which impact how the messages embedded in the sources are viewed. 

Also, unlike source 3, father and child do not live under the same roof, illustrating that the circumstances of birth impact where a child lives and who he interacts with on a daily basis.

In both sources 3 and 4, we do see fathers providing for their children. In source 4, there is a distance between father and son. But the father does show the child some affection and he does seem concerned about the boy’s upbringing.   
I'll work on source 5 tomorrow, or tonight if time.    

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Using Social Science Concepts as Filters for Source Work

Here is another source in the DBQ that I have been referencing the past few days. Notice that this comes from an autobiography, as opposed to a diary entry. It was written in the 1550s by Cellini, a metal crafter and sculptor who lived in Florence Italy.


I am surprised to see that he was an author and am curious if I will pull up anything about him via a google search (his Wikipedia page).  (I did. He is well known.)

Writing an autobiography gives the author a different purpose and audience than if he were writing to a diary, which is where the source we looked at yesterday came from.  Knowing that this is an autobiography, I am curious to learn more about the events surrounding its publication. A life story, or autobiography, is a valuable source because it reveals the author’s point of view and details about the society he was part of, which is exactly what we are looking for. Remember, despite students often naive views about bias, bias is the marrow of the discipline, giving historians lots of materials to work with.   

This source needs to be placed into the broader context of place, time, and historical era. Sixteenth century Florence, we know, is connected with the Italian Renaissance. To contextualize this source, background knowledge, or information from other sources if part of a source set, needs to be connected to details in the text.  

I am immediately interested in the relationship that Cellini has with his so called ‘natural son’, a child of his that was born out of wedlock. There is no mention of the child’s mother. As I stated here, I think source work can be done more thoughtfully and meaningfully using concepts from the social sciences, especially sociology.  What are some of the social science connections that this source might connect to?

Sociology Themes/Qs
Roles and Norms
-the relationship b/t a father and son when birth occurred outside of marriage
-caretakers who were not biological parents (the wife of the workman)
-how society handled, treated children born out of wedlock
-how a 2 year old was perceived by adults (notions of childhood)
-how unwed women who birthed children were treated

Psychology/Themes Qs
-the desire of a son to be with his father
-the connections/meaning associated with having a biological connection to another person

-how paternity was determined in the 16th century

-How far was he travelling?

-How much could he get for the amount of money he had?
-How much did the woman nursing his son receive?  Was that her job?

Also, I wonder, what are some ways I might connect this source to today’s source?  Scheurl.jpgThe two sources show us that not all children inhabited the same homes as their biological parents. We also can use these two sources to examine the different ways that children were treated based on whether they were born inside of or outside of marriage.