What is a primary source? A primary source is an artifact that is contemporaneous of the period under analysis. for example: if we are studying the Civil War, how do we know what occurred at that time? What do we rely on to inform our understanding of this event? Primary sources are evidence of the past, and they usually consist of documents or other forms of “realia” (paintings, tools, clothing) that are from that period of time. Historians are essentially detectives, who use these pieces of evidence to inform and interpret the past. In the case of the example of the Civil War, historians may consult war journals, newspapers, congressional records, or photographs (a newer innovation of the period).
While primary sources are beneficial, they are also problematic. Since they are produced by people, we must keep in mind that everyone has inherent bias. As such, one of the jobs of historians is to detect and filter out these biases. For examples, in studying slavery, most slaves were illiterate and left little behind in way of the written word (with some exception). Historians have to generally rely on second-hand testimony (e.g., slave-owners) to understand the experiences of slaves. However, slave-owners, who were predominantly white, did not have the most flattering or informed opinion of their property. Therefore, we have to essentially “read between the lines” in trying to assess the perspectives of the slaves themselves. The same can be said of early Native-American cultures.
With this assignment, it is your job to play historians. You will read several documents and be asked to assess and interpret their content relative to the historical period under analysis. In doing so, you must have a grasp of who the author is, why they are writing the document, and who the intended audience is (the public? A significant other? A colleague?). You will then use this knowledge to answer the question that is presented in the respective modular assignment.
2/ Postwar American Liberalism documents
Barry Goldwater, Speech at Republican National Convention (1964) (Links to an external site.)
Statement of Purpose, National Organization of Women (1966) (Links to an external site.)
Question: The decade of the 1960s saw Americans defining and redefining the concept of freedom based on their sense of identity. How do these documents support these varying notions of the meaning of freedom? What does freedom mean to them?