GUIDE TO READING HISTORICAL DOCUMENTS

INSTRUCTIONS: Read through the entire document and then answer these questions:

1. AUTHOR(S):
Who were they?
What was their authority? (Personal? Institutional?)
What was their specialized knowledge or experience?
How would you describe the author's tone of voice? (Formal, angry, respectful, other?)
List one or more quotations that justify your choice.

2. AUDIENCE(S):
Who was the intended reader(s) or listener(s)?
Were there other readers or listeners beyond those originally intended? Who?
How did the audience affect the ways the author(s) presented ideas?

3. PURPOSE:
What was the explicit intent behind this document? (To do what? Or to cause what to happen?)
What was the relation between this intent and other policy or practice?
Was there an implicit purpose, or hidden agenda, behind this document?
Who benefited directly or indirectly, from the policy reflected in the document?

4. CONTEXT:
What were the date and place of the document?
What was the interval between the initial problem or event and this document that responded to it?
What medium or form was the document communicated through? (Newspaper, government record, letter, other?)
Where was the document written and read?
What were other events or conditions at the same time that could have affected the reading or writing of the document?

5. MEANING:
Is there any ambiguity in the literal meaning of the document? Which words?
Are there striking omissions in the document? How does this affect its meaning?
Does the organization of ideas or the repetition of themes in the document suggest those that the writer(s) believed most important?
Are there any confusing terms in this document? Which words?
Can you detect bias in the choice of any words or terms? Which?
Can you detect any underlying assumptions (of values or attitudes) revealed in any loaded remarks or passing remarks? What?
Can you sense any contradictory or conflicting attitudes or issues expressed in the document? What?
How does the form or medium affect the meaning of this document?



CORROBORATION:
Do other sources support this document? How do other documents from this period illuminate or contradict this document?

REFERENCE SOURCES:
If you need additional background information to answer these questions confidently, which reference sources could you consult?

Material adapted from Social Education (Vol.48,No.1,Jan 1984 National Council for the Social
Studies) Jo Anne Gill 1993 - Permission to reprint for classroom use.


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