I. Description and Purpose
In addition to being sources of factual information, secondary sources are also sources of interpretations, ways of understanding the facts. But to be used for that purpose, one must be able to identify and understand an historian's interpretation and how that interpretation was arrived at. In addition, one must be able to decide whether or not that interpretation is true. This assignment is designed to help you make better use of secondary sources by encouraging you to read and evaluate these sources more carefully.
You will be asked to read a secondary source from among those listed on the separate sheet. When you have read and understood the source, you should fill out a form supplying the following information:
a. Your name.
b. The title of the source and its author.
c. The historical event. What historical event does this secondary source address?
d. The author's thesis. In one or two sentences, state the author's thesis in your own words--do not quote it.
e. Outline the author's argument. Summarize the reasons the author gives for why you should believe the thesis. While the sophistication of the argument will vary with each source, it should take a minimum of four or five sentences to outline the argument.
f. Description the evidence the author uses to support the argument. You do not have to list each individual source used, but you should indicate broadly speaking what primary sources the author uses. For example, a biography of Thomas Jefferson might be based largely on his personal correspondence. A history of the Civil Rights Movement might be written largely based on articles from the New York Times. Depending on the type and variety of evidence, this may take anywhere from one to six sentences.
g. Evaluate the argument. Based on what you have read, based on what you know about the subject, do you find the author's argument persuasive? If not, why not? Can you think of a counter-argument or evidence which might raise doubts about the truth of the argument? If you think it is true, can you think of any additional evidence or additional arguments which might strengthen the argument? Can you apply the author's conclusion in some other context? Of course an author may be correct in some parts of the argument and incorrect in others. Be sure to identify the aspects of the source you agree with and those you disagree with. This is quite likely the longest section of the report. Take the time you need to fully develop your evaluation. Note: This is not a reaction paper. You are not to present your response to the source, but rather your evaluation of the argument.
You may use the form provided or you may simply use the headings on a word processor or sheet of paper. Please see the sample form.
Your report will be evaluated based on the following criteria:
A. Preliminaries: Does it meet the requirements of the assignment regarding format, length and due date?
B. Writing: Is the report's prose clear and conform to the expectations of Standard Written English?
C. Understanding the Secondary Source: Does this essay show a good understanding of the secondary source, the author's thesis, the author's argument and the evidence presented?
D. Critique of the Source: Does this essay offer an insightful evaluation of the source, whether positive or negative?
Each of these criteria will be given equal weight. The written report will be worth 30 points. The Oral Presentation will be worth 10 points.
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