Wednesday, April 13, 2016

C is for Cookie ... and Context and Civil War

When I was a little kid, I was a HUGE Sesame Street fan. Sesame Street was still new at that time and it was kind of a big deal. My mom will tell anyone how obsessed I was with Bert and “Nernie”. I can still sing “Rubber Duckie” with glee, despite the fact that my own children are not particularly into Sesame Street.
(Don’t mock me. You know you love the Rainbow Connection...)

So Cookie Monster sings “C is for Cookie”. In my household, “C” stands for LOTS of things. Cookies. Chicken. Cement Mixers. Chair. Cooler. Crib.

At work, C is for Curriculum Guides, Course Progression, Civics, Competency-Based Learning, Civil War, and ... Confederacy?

6Cs.pngThere are a lot of things in my world that start with “C” and there are a lot of different ways to analyze a historical document.

I want to give you one more tool for your document analysis “toolbox”.

And I want to use the letter “C”, I want you to try out the “SIX Cs” of document analysis:


The History Project out of University of California, Irvine, has their own “spin” on document analysis and I kind of line it. It asks kids to look at the Six C of any primary source document. Let’s take a look.

  1. Content: What does the document say? What is the main idea of it?
  2. Citation: Who wrote it? When? Why?
  3. Context: What was going on at the time it was written?
  4. Connections: Link this document to any prior knowledge you may have.
  5. Communications: What is the author’s point of view or bias? How reliable is it?
  6. Conclusions: How does this document contribute to our understanding of history?

Let’s practice -- with one of the few historical arguments most Americans know -- the C-is-for-Cause of the C-is-for-Civil War

Here’s the document: a letter from Stephen Fowler Hale, Alabama’s commissioner to Kentucky to Kentucky Governor Beriah Magoffin on December 27, 1860 (a week after South Carolina’s secession) to “consult in reference to the momentous issues now pending between the Northern and Southern states of this confederacy”

“Will the people of the North cease to make war upon the institution of slavery and award to it the protection guaranteed by the Constitution? Will the South give up the institution of slavery and consent that her citizens be stripped of their property, her civilization destroyed, the whole land laid waste by fire and sword? It is impossible. She cannot; she will not. ... Shall we wait until abolition judges are on the Supreme Court, abolition collectors at every port, and abolition postmasters in every town? No, verily. And she must earnestly but respectfully invites her sister sovereign state, Kentucky to consider these grave and vital questions, hoping that she may concur with the State of Alabama in the conclusions to which she has been driven by the impending dangers that surround the Southern States...”

Hale, Stephen F. Letter to Governor Beriah Magoffin of Kentucky. 27 Dec. 1860. Apostles of Disunion. Charlottesville: U of Virginia, 2001. 90-103. Print.

  1. Content: The letter describes the arguments of a secessionist Alabamian to the governor of Kentucky. He says that the North is making war on Slavery, letting abolitionists take over the country, stripping the South of “her civilization” -- and that Kentucky should succeed with Alabama.
  2. Citation: Written by Stephen F. Hale, an Alabama commissioner (an appointed ambassador-like person) whose job was to persuade other states to join the Confederacy a month after the historic election of 1860 and a week after South Carolina seceded.
  3. Context: Abraham Lincoln had just been elected president of the United States -- by 40% of the popular vote and not carrying a single Southern state. South Carolina had just seceded. And the Southern States thinking about seceding didn’t want to do it alone.  
  4. Connections: We know that people say that the Civil War was about slavery or states rights. We know that the Southern states were leaving the union with Lincoln’s election as the spark that set it off.We know that the slave states and free states had been bargaining for decades to sort out the issue of slavery between them.
  5. Communications: The author is very pro-slavery and anti-abolitionist and anti-Lincoln. He wants Kentucky to secede along with Alabama. He is probably a pretty good representative of the loud secessionists of the South.
  6. Conclusions: According to this document, the south Seceded because of slavery.  That’s what Hale says. We can also conclude that Kentucky didn’t secede partly because Hale’s argument didn’t work.

I know many of you have many strategies to analyze a document. But there’s always room for one more cookie. And one more document analysis strategy. Give it a try as you sing the Rainbow Connection softly to yourself. And as always, let me know how it goes!

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