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The Historian’s Toolbox


Rosa Parks, an African American, was arrested that day for violating a city law requiring racial segregation of public buses. In police custody, ... – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: The Historian’s Toolbox

The Historians Toolbox
  • Discovery, Analysis, Interpretation, Communication

What Do Historians Do?
  • Obviously historiography writing history cannot
    be a science. It can only be an industry, an art,
    and a philosophy an industry by ferreting out
    the facts, an art by establishing a meaningful
    order in the chaos of materials, a philosophy by
    seeking perspective and enlightenment." - Will
    and Ariel Durant, The Lessons of History (1968)

The Building Blocks of History Primary Sources
  • Primary sources are actual records that have
    survived from the past. They are pieces of
    information created from direct experience that
    help us to understand history letters, diaries,
    public documents, photographs, remnants of
    clothing, furniture, tools, coins, and other
  • Primary sources are created by people who
    witnessed or participated in an event and
    recorded it in some way.

This photo was taken about 100 years ago at the
turn of the century. It shows Laura May Wilson
and her bike.
Note Any item created in the past which provides
information about the period is also considered a
primary source (e.g., a newspaper advertisement
from the 1940s, a political cartoon from the
1920s,or a recipe from the 1800s.)
Using Primary Sources
  • The photograph on the left shows Laura May Wilson
    on her wedding day. Through using documents such
    as a Certificate of Marriage (below the picture),
    we can learn more about this event. For example,
    she was married on March 14, 1917, in Coon
    Rapids, Carroll County, Iowa. From this document,
    we also know that her two sisters Hazel and Rhoda
    witnessed the marriage.

Tools for Doing History Well
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Locating Primary Sources
  • Looking for primary documents is like a treasure
    hunt. Historians often have to go to many places
    to collect materials including libraries,
    museums, government agencies, and historical
    societies. They even may create their own
    documents by interviewing relevant people. (Audio
    and video tapes are primary sources too.)

Resources at the Library of Congress, Washington,
1933 Chicago World's Fair View Book, Boston
Museum of Natural History
Above (right) 16th Amendment to the U.S.
Constitution Federal Income Tax (1913), National
Group Listening to V-E Day Radio Commentary,
State Historical Society of Wisconsin, Madison
Slaves who fled their masters, 1862, Library of
Broadening the Search
  • Today, many historians use digital reproductions
    of original materials. A digital reproduction is
    an electronic version of an artifact such as a
    diary, letter, newspaper clipping, object, or
    original photograph. Digital reproduction allows
    the original to be stored, protected, and
    preserved, while making the resource widely
    available for study.

Photographer Les Goodey creating digital
reproductions, The Taylor-Schechter Genizah
Research Unit, Cambridge University Library
Documents from the Genizah Collection help to
shed light on the medieval world. Its 140,000
manuscript fragments are mainly in Hebrew and
More Examples of Digital Reproductions
  • The article on the right is a digital
    reproduction of a newspaper article. The article
    notes that Mrs. Laura Wilson Anderson had her
    poems published in The Poetic Voice of America.
    The original article was scanned.
  • The pictures show the "Always Ready Class" at the
    Star Methodist Church where Clara May Wilson
    taught. A number of scans were completed. First,
    the photo is displayed in a black photo album.
    The back of the photo was also scanned. The
    close-ups are of Clara and Glenn Bolger, Mrs.
    Andersons niece and nephew.

The Limitations of Digital Reproductions
  • Reading a scanned copy of the marriage
    certificate yields similar information to the
    original. But it doesn't allow us to see the
    reverse side of the sheet unless that side is
    scanned too. So the exploration may be incomplete
    when examining digital reproductions. Some
    historians also miss the smell and touch of an
    original item.

  • Many historical primary resources are transcribed
    into a digital form to make them easier to access
    and search. This is a diary entry made by Eileen
    Kinnick on January 1, 1936, when she was 17
    years old. A scanned digital reproduction of the
    diary page is at the top. The transcription is
    below it.

Wednesday, January 1 Up to Edna's
all day. Gertrude's, Lillian's and Lucille's
and we were there. At nite read book and
listened to Gracie Allen. "The Music goes
Round Round."
Errors in Transcription
  • Examine this example from Ruth West's 1920 diary
    and see if you can identify issues or concerns
    with transcription. Errors in transcriptions are

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Examining Primary Sources
  • Historians go to primary sources in search of
    evidence to answer questions about what happened
    in the past and why. When working with primary
    sources, answering a series of basic questions
    can help us judge their quality and draw more
    accurate conclusions.
  • The Document Analysis Worksheets on the following
    pages were developed by the National Archives for
    educators and young researchers to assist in the
    evaluation of primary sources of various types.

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Interpreting Primary Sources
  • Interpretation is the process of explaining
    primary sources by revealing their context,
    meaning, and significance. Lets look at an
    example involving Civil Rights activist Rosa

The Arrest Records of Rosa Parks
  • The documents shown here relating to Mrs. Parks
    arrest are copies that were submitted as evidence
    in the Browder v. Gayle case. They are preserved
    by the National Archives and Records
    Administration-Southeast Region in East Point,
    Georgia, in Record Group 21, Records District
    Courts of the United States, U.S. District Court
    for Middle District of Alabama, Northern
    (Montgomery) Division. Civil Case 1147, Browder,
    et al v. Gayle, et al.
  • This booking photo, taken at the time of Mrs.
    Parks' arrest, was discovered in July 2004 by a
    deputy cleaning out a Montgomery County Sheriff's
    Department storage room.

Police Report, December 1, 1955, Page 1
Police Report, December 1, 1955, Page 2
Fingerprint Card of Rosa Parks
Illustration of bus where Rosa Parks sat,
December 1, 1955
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Telling the Story Behind the Primary Sources
  • Authors Stacey Bredhoff, Wynell Schamel, and Lee
    Ann Potter studied Rosa Parks arrest records and
    combined their new knowledge with what they
    already knew about the Civil Rights movement and
    published this article "The Arrest Records of
    Rosa Parks." Social Education 63, 4 (May/June
    1999) 207-211.

Rosa Parks Arrest Records
From "The Arrest Records of Rosa Parks." Social
Education 63, 4 (May/June 1999)
  • On December 1, 1955, during a typical evening
    rush hour in Montgomery, Alabama, a 42-year-old
    woman took a seat on the bus on her way home from
    the Montgomery Fair department store where she
    worked as a seamstress. Before she reached her
    destination, she quietly set off a social
    revolution when the bus driver instructed her to
    move back, and she refused. Rosa Parks, an
    African American, was arrested that day for
    violating a city law requiring racial segregation
    of public buses.

Note In this section, highlighted passages
indicate interpretive statements.
  • In police custody, Mrs. Parks was booked,
    fingerprinted, and briefly incarcerated. The
    police report shows that she was charged with
    "refusing to obey orders of bus driver." For
    openly challenging the racial laws of her city,
    she remained at great physical risk while held by
    the police, and her family was terrified for her.
    When she called home, she spoke to her mother,
    whose first question was "Did they beat you?"

  • Mrs. Parks was not the first person to be
    prosecuted for violating the segregation laws on
    the city buses in Montgomery. She was, however, a
    woman of unchallenged character who was held in
    high esteem by all those who knew her. At the
    time of her arrest, Mrs. Parks was active in the
    local National Association for the Advancement of
    Colored People (NAACP), serving as secretary to
    E.D. Nixon, president of the Montgomery chapter.
    Her arrest became a rallying point around which
    the African American community organized a bus
    boycott in protest of the discrimination they had
    endured for years. Martin Luther King, Jr., the
    26-year-old minister of the Dexter Avenue Baptist
    Church, emerged as a leader during the
    well-coordinated, peaceful boycott that lasted
    381 days and captured the worlds attention. It
    was during the boycott that Reverend Martin
    Luther King, Jr., first achieved national fame as
    the public became acquainted with his powerful

  • After Mrs. Parks was convicted under city law,
    her lawyer filed a notice of appeal. While her
    appeal was tied up in the state court of appeals,
    a panel of three judges in the U.S. District
    Court for the region ruled in another case that
    racial segregation of public buses was
    unconstitutional. That case, called Browder v.
    Gayle, was decided on June 4, 1956. The ruling
    was made by a three-judge panel that included
    Frank M. Johnson, Jr., and upheld by the United
    States Supreme court on November 13, 1956.

Judgment After trial on the merits and careful
consideration of the evidence therein adduced and
after oral arguments and submission of briefs by
all parties, the Court, being fully advised in
the promises, found in an opinion handed down on
June 5, 1956, that the enforced segregation of
Negro and white passengers on motor buses
operating in the City of Montgomery as required
by Section 301 (31a, 31b and 31c) of Title 48,
Code of Alabama, 1940, as amended, and Sections
10 and 11 of Chapter 6 of the Code of the City of
Montgomery, 1952, violates the Constitution and
laws of the United States.
  • For a quiet act of defiance that resonated
    throughout the world, Rosa Parks is known and
    revered as the "Mother of the Civil Rights

February 4, 1913 - October 24, 2005
February 4, 1913 - October 24, 2005
Why Study History?
  • For the Big Payoff

  • A Lesson from History
  • Even ordinary citizens can serve as agents of
    constructive change. Conventional wisdom says
    that if you want to play a significant role in
    history, you have to do something big. But it's
    small acts of leadership refusing to move to
    the back of the bus, circulating a petition,
    organizing a strike that eventually move
    mountains. Small acts of leadership, not big
    heroic acts, performed by like-minded people
    ultimately add up. Small acts of leadership
    slowly and effectively bring about constructive
    change ESM

  • "Analysis of Primary Sources." The Historian's
    Sources. The Library of Congress. 14 Nov. 2005
  • District Court of The United States for the
    Middle District of Alabama-Northern Division.
    "Browder v. Galye." National Park Service. 22
    Dec. 2004. National Historic Site, National Park
    Service, U.S. Department of the Interior. 15 Nov.
    2005 lthttp//
  • Education Staff. "Document Analysis Worksheets."
    ARCHIVES.GOV. U.S. National Archives and Records
    Administration. 14 Nov. 2005 lthttp//www.archives.
  • Education Staff. "Teaching with Documents The
    Arrest Records of Rosa Parks." ARCHIVES.GOV. U.S.
    National Archives and Records Administration. 15
    Nov. 2005 lthttp//
    ns/rosa-parks/documents gt.
  • "History and Culture Questions and Answers."
    Open Door Ideas and Voices from MIT. 2003.
    Massachusetts Institute of Technology. 15 Nov.
    2005 lthttp//
  • Lamb, Annette, and Larry Johnson. "Analyzing
    Primary Sources." E-Scrapbooking. Feb. 2005. 14
    Nov. 2005 lthttp//
  • "Using Primary Sources." Do History History
    Toolkit. Film Study Center, Harvard University,
    and Center for History and New Media, George
    Mason University. 14 Nov. 2005 lthttp//dohistory.o