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How History is Made: An Introduction to Source Analysis

This course is no longer being offered.

Course Description

How History is Made invites students into the historians' workshop and introduces them to the basics of historical research. We will handle, discuss, and evaluate the sources available to historians when they construct their narratives about the past. Students will learn to identify various types of sources, to analyze and to evaluate a source, and to recognize the various uses for a source.

How History is Made introduces students to written, oral, audio-visual, and material sources. We will begin with a section from The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli, the quintessential piece of political writing and a widely used written source for historians. From there we move on to other types of written sources such as newspaper articles, letters, novels, and shopping lists. After written sources, we will consider oral sources in the form of interviews. Next will come to audio-visual sources such as paintings, photos, and films. And finally, we will turn to material sources, including a pair of skinny jeans, a necklace, and a cell phone. With every new source type we encounter, we ask the following questions: Who produced this source and why? What are the inherent possibilities and limitations of this source? How does this source shape and frame a historical narrative? To enhance our understanding of the various sources, students will have the opportunity to visit a special collections library and see an early printed book, to make their own oral history, and to find a new piece of material history. Students will hone their analytical reading and observation skills and they will learn to think critically about the origins of the historical narratives they are used to reading in their textbooks and seeing on the History Channel.

By the end of this course, students can recognize the various sources available to historians and will be able to critically evaluate these sources. Hands on experiences and in-class discussions, presentations, and short writing assignments will allow students to practice expressing their thoughts orally and in writing, in small group situations and in front of an audience. The course's emphasis on source analysis and critical reading will help prepare the students who wish to take a AP History exam or the IB Diploma history exam. The daily encounters with various primary sources and field trips to a special collections library and an art exhibit will introduce students to the foundations of college-level research in qualitative sources.

No prerequisites. The course is accessible to all interested students.