To that end, today we did a document study of three different primary source opinions on the morality of slavery thanks to excerpts compiled by The DBQ Project.
The SourcesWe looked at excerpts from:
- Frederick Douglass's "The Meaning of the Fourth of July for the Negro"
- George Fitzhugh's Cannibals All! or Slaves Without Masters
- Reactions to John Brown, from The Americans by Gerald Danzer
- I divided the class into small groups of 3-4 students and each group was assigned one of the 3 documents. But they were told they could not read the documents yet. We have been working all year on analyzing sources using the methodology recommended by the Stanford History Education Group. Naturally the first step is sourcing so they looked at reliable websites like Biography.com and PBS.org for information about their figure's opinion on slavery and any actions they took to spread their beliefs prior to the Civil War. As small groups they drafted a one paragraph summary.
- Next step was to find a portrait of their figure. It is important for students to see the face of the historical figures they study. Often it makes events and ideas more personal. They saved a digital copy of these portraits for later use (see step 4 below).
- Finally, they got to read the document.
- They read it once through.
- They identified and looked up definitions of unfamiliar words and phrases.
- They chose the thesis statement from the document and then rewrote it in their own words to show understanding.
That last step really made the words and the people behind them come alive for my students. One remarked about how Frederick Douglass's eyes in his portrait now looked as if they were accusing his audience of being hypocrites.
The portraits gave the documents identity, but the words from the documents transformed the portraits into real people. They interacted with the men responsible for the words on the page and developed a relationship with them. My hope is that my students did not merely learn history, they experienced history.