Debating the Documents
Interpreting Alternative Viewpoints in Primary Source Documents
Monster Monopolist or Marketplace Hero?
John D. Rockefeller and his Standard Oil Company were widely admired and just as widely despised.
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Using Primary Sources
Primary sources are called “primary” because they are firsthand records of a past era or historical event. They are the raw materials, or the evidence, on which historians base their “secondary” accounts of the past. A rapidly growing number of history teachers today are using primary sources. Why? Perhaps it's because primary sources give students a better sense of what history is and what historians do. Such sources also help students see the past from a variety of viewpoints. Moreover, primary sources make history vivid and bring it to life. However, primary sources are not easy to use. They can be confusing. They can be biased. They rarely all agree. Primary sources must be interpreted and set in context. To do this, students need historical background knowledge. Debating the Documents helps students handle such challenges by giving them a useful framework for analyzing sources that conflict with one another.
“Multiple, conflicting perspectives are among the truths of history. No single objective or universal account could ever put an end to this endless creative dialogue within and between the past and the present.” From the 2005 Statement on Standards of Professional Conduct of the Council of the American Historical Association.
Rockefeller: Monster Monopolist or Marketplace Hero? | Debating the Documents
The Debating the Documents Series
Each Debating the Documents booklet includes the same sequence of reproducible worksheets. If students use several booklets over time, they will get regular practice at interpreting and comparing conflicting sources. In this way, they can learn the skills and habits needed to get the most out of primary sources. • Suggestions for the Student and an Introductory Essay. The student gets instructions and a one-page essay providing background on the booklet’s topic. A time line on the topic is also included. • TWO Groups of Contrasting Primary Source Documents. In most of the booklets, students get one pair of visual sources and one pair of written sources. In some cases, more than two are provided for each. Background is provided on each source. Within each group, the sources clash in a very clear way. (The sources are not always exact opposites, but they do always differ in some obvious way.) • Three Worksheets for Each Document Group. Students use the first two worksheets to take notes on the sources. The third worksheet asks which source the student thinks would be most useful to a historian. • CD-ROM. The ImageXaminer lets students view the primary sources as a class, in small groups, or individually. A folder containing all of the student handouts in pdf format, including a graphic organizer for use with the ImageXaminer’s grid tool, allows for printing directly from the CD. • One DBQ. On page 22, a document-based question (DBQ) asks students to write an effective essay using all of the booklet’s primary sources.
Each Debating the Documents Booklet Includes:
How to Use This Booklet
All pages in this booklet may be photocopied for classroom use.
1. Have students read “Suggestions for the Student” and the Introductory Essay.
Give them copies of pages 7–9. Ask them to read the instructions...
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