Sunday, September 16, 2012
From the TA Corner: Analyzing Primary Source Documents
“It’s not as scary as I thought”
For both of my sections this week we took on the fun adventure of analyzing primary source documents from Major Problems in American History Volume 1: to 1877. The class broke up into two groups, one reading “Christopher Columbus Recounts His First Encounters with Native People, 1493” and the other group reading “Fray Bernardino de Sahagun Relates an Aztec Chronicler’s Account of the Spanish Conquest of the Aztecs, 1519.” The students reread the document (it was the assigned reading and of course they did their homework) and discussed the document within the group. The questions they thought about while reading were:
1. What was this document about?
2. Who was the document written to? Why?
3. When was this document actually written? (added background information)
Students immediately caught on to the persuasive use of language and imagery in both documents. In Wednesday section, the classroom walls have large chalkboards. Each student wrote (some drew) an interesting point from their document on the chalkboard. We went through each point written on the board so the students could visually see lists of ideas and quotes from the other groups text. In Friday’s section there is only one board so we shared them out loud. Some of the topics that students found interesting were:
1. The description of the Indians clothing and appearance.
2. The behavior of the Indians upon contact.
3. Comparing gender roles between the Europeans and the Indians.
4. The description of the Aztecs fighting the Spanish.
The next step
Next week we will examine the essays at the end of the chapter to see how primary sources are used in writing essays. Ramiro Frausto (another awesome TA who unfortunately never makes our group photos, except his shoulder) gave me the idea to read the essays at the end of the chapter with the students for this exercise. The learning objective for next week will be to identify the argument in the essay. The second objective will be to find the primary sources used to support the argument.
On their own
My hope is that by analyzing the primary source documents, identifying the argument in an essay, and examining how the documents are used in essays, students will feel better prepared to write their first essay. They will need to use a primary source document from Major Problems and one source from CourseMate to support their argument. I actually feel very confident these exercises will help guide them. As we were leaving one section I asked how they felt about analyzing primary source documents? “Well it’s not as scary as I thought” a reply that was either:
1. An attempt at brownie points
2. Just being nice because it was my birthday (and thank you Ed, but for the record, I am NOT 42!).
3. Sincere and hopefully excited about writing their essay.
I am going to full heartedly believe in number 3.
P.S. I happen to be terrible at pronouncing some of these names. I Google searched the names looking for a phonetic transcription that could help me learn how to pronounce the names and found the above jewel on youtube.
But this is my favorite http://youtu.be/lhODj5t7J_I
Posted by Edward J. Blum at 4:03 PM