Books & Acorns


A Homeschooling Journey (Formerly Pics & Papers)

by Stacey Carpenter

Books & Acorns

Category: History (page 2 of 12)

31 Days of Teaching History: Analyzing Primary Sources

Day 26: Analyzing Primary Sources

During community college, I took a humanities course and a Western Civilization course with a professor who really loved using primary and also highly valued argumentative writing. Even our essay test prompts were persuasive in nature instead of merely calculated to show our knowledge. Both classes were quite challenging, but by the end, I had learned so much about analyzing someone else’s argument and constructing a good argument of my own.

This professor had us follow the P.A.P.E.R. method of analyzing primary sources. We would read a primary source and then write an essay on it using the following five sections.

  1. Purpose of the author in preparing the document
  2. Argument and strategy she or he uses to achieve those goals
  3. Presuppositions and values (in the text, and our own)
  4. Epistemology (evaluating truth content)
  5. Relate to other texts (compare and contrast)

For part one, we would consider why the author had written it and what his goals were. In part two, we would use what we knew of logic or argumentation to analyze the author’s argument. We would analyze the structure, the reasons the author gave, and any fallacies or rhetorical devices he used. For part three, we would discuss presuppositions. Presuppositions are, put simply, the author’s beliefs. Is the author writing from a Christian viewpoint or another religious viewpoint? Maybe a political viewpoint? Part four requires a discussion of the truth contained in the source. How do the author’s claims hold up against other sources we have consulted? What parts of the text are his opinion and what parts are facts? In part five, we would relate the text to another similar source we had recently read on the same topic.

I highly suggest you construct a few primary source analysis writing assignments for your junior high or high school students using this format. For a much better and more thorough explanation of the P.A.P.E.R. method, read “How to Read a Primary Source.”


31 Days of Teaching Homeschool History: Analyzing Primary Sources

31 Days of Teaching History: Primary and Secondary Sources

Day 25: Primary and Secondary Sources

A primary source was written by someone with firsthand, eyewitness information. An article written by a reporter who witnessed an event, a memoir or autobiography, a letter, an ad in a newspaper from an earlier time period, a government document, an opinionated pamphlet circulated at the time of an event, photographs–all of these are primary sources.

Later on, a historian will dig up old newspaper articles, memoirs, etc. and write a summary of the event. He, of course, was not there, but he researched and based his summary on primary sources. This new summary is a secondary source. In fact, other authors may keep writing about the same event, consulting both the primary sources and some of the other secondary sources. All of these works will be secondary sources.

Most of the history books you read will probably be secondary sources, but it is well worth finding primary sources to add to your studies!

Sometimes primary sources will have been written by well-educated men from another era (such as the Declaration of Independence), and your student will need well-developed vocabulary and reading skills, such as the skill of picking out the main idea.

Here are some resources for finding primary sources:

Primary Source Documents

You can probably find most any primary source document online, often complete with photographs of the real thing and lesson plans or discussion questions. What follows are a few go-to locations for primary sources.

RESOURCE: Paul Hallsall from Fordham University has compiled huge chronological lists of primary sources.

RESOURCE: American Memory from the Library of Congress contains a great deal of American primary sources.

RESOURCE: Repositories of Primary Sources is a gigantic list of primary source repositories. You can view them by region and definitely find sources for any part of the world. For instance, they list 58 websites just for Austria alone. (Many of the sites listed for non-English speaking countries are not in English, of course, but can easily be translated in your browser, but those for the U.S., U.K., Australia, Canada, etc. are.) There are also tons and tons of sites listed for every one of the 50 States. They have posted a notice that at the beginning of 2015, they will no longer be updating the listings; however, it should still be an extremely useful directory for years to come.

Historic Photos & Videos

If you haven’t searched extensively, you probably had no idea how very many historic paintings, photographs, and even videos exist for any given topic. The best (and least overwhelming) method of finding these is to search for them by topic as you come to that topic. If you are studying WWI, go to YouTube and search for “World War I Footage.” You might come across this footage posted on the British Pathé website. If you are studying Elizabeth I, be sure to search for “Elizabeth I” on Wikimedia Commons (the image library part of Wikipedia) to see seven portraits of her instead of just the one on the biography cover.

RESOURCE: British Pathé posts a great deal of historic footage on YouTube. Subscribe to their channel for updates.

RESOURCE: Some websites, like the Library of Congress, have vast collections of historic photographs. You state most likely has a huge collection relating to your state’s history (Florida Memory has 180,000 digitized photos, for example.) If you are studying local history, try finding a state or local photo collection and see if you can find early photos of downtown areas nearby.

RESOURCE: has texts, videos, and pictures.


31 Days of Teaching Homeschool History: Primary and Secondary Sources

31 Days of Teaching History: Discussing Books and Ideas

I’m back! We had family visiting and we spent a little time in the mountains this weekend. I had planned to keep up on the series, but in the end, I decided to take a break and enjoy spending time with people I love instead of hastily writing blog posts. If I had continued writing, the post quality would have suffered. The series will be finishing in early November instead of October 31, but we will still have 31 posts, as originally planned. Thank you all for your patience!

Day 24: Discussing Books and Ideas

As you have seen so far in the series, your students will be doing a great deal of reading, from a variety of books. It can be tempting to assign a page count for the day and leave your child to check off the assignment.

But page counts are not the important thing.

Your student could read 10 books in one week and not pause for a moment to think about what he has read. He could have covered a great deal of material, but very little of it will stick with him if he does not think and reflect upon it afterwards, either through narration or discussion.

It is of much more value to read a small amount and spend a good deal of time reflecting upon it than it is to read a ton of material with the goal of crossing it off the list.

Take the time to read the books you assign to your student. Either read it before you assign it, or read it together with your child. Afterwards, ask him what he thought of it. If you are just beginning to discuss the books you read, you may get some bland answers like, “It was good.” Always try to draw out a little more elaboration until you strike a nerve that gets him talking. “What was the most interesting part?” “Do you think this person made a good choice?” “Do you think it could have turned out differently? Do you think it should have turned out differently?” You can think of many more specific questions related to the individual book and it’s people and events. For a great introduction to discussing books with kids (focusing mainly on fiction books, but with excellent principles), read Deconstructing Penguins: Parents, Kids, and the Bond of Reading. The authors run a book club for parents and their kids and they offer numerous examples of how they stimulate discussion and prompt the kids.

Not only should you discuss the content of the book, but you should also discuss the author’s treatment of it. Elsewhere, I’ve suggested that you pick books from a variety of perspectives. Teach your child to notice the author’s viewpoint and how it comes across in the text. Analyze the book in light of your own worldview.

Every parent wants to impart his own worldview to his children. This is perfectly natural. If you truly believe something, of course you want your child to know the truth. If you are of the opinion that you don’t want to influence your child’s beliefs, it’s possible you are either fooling yourself into thinking you are going to be an objective teacher or that you don’t truly believe your own professed worldview. As a Christian, I believe that the Bible is absolute Truth and that it is inerrant. The Bible itself says it is the Truth, and it says it is the only Truth. Of course I will be teaching my children this Truth–their very souls are at stake here, and I don’t take that lightly. If I didn’t want to “impose my beliefs on them” for fear of brainwashing them, I would have to question whether I truly believe the Bible and whether I truly believe in Jesus or whether I truly care about my children.

Some parents believe that the only way to share their worldview with their children is to choose only resources they agree with. I would argue that this is unhelpful. If you never expose your child to other worldviews, he will eventually come across them years later and (a) not know how to handle them and (b) wonder why you never told him about them. If, as a child, I had been sheltered from all other perspectives, I might wonder if my parents were afraid mere exposure would sway me to them. I would think such perspectives must have some very strong and persuasive points that my parents were afraid to address. Thankfully, my parents were not afraid of discussing other worldviews with me or sharing their own thoughts on why they choose to believe the Bible instead of other things. Knowing that there are other things I could choose to believe, but also seeing that there are convincing reasons to believe the Bible, helped to ground my faith. “Here are some of the persuasive arguments of atheists. I am aware of these arguments, and yet I choose not to be an atheist. Here are some of the reasons I have chosen to believe in God instead.” Pretending atheism does not exist would be detrimental to the child who is going to encounter such arguments everywhere later in his life.

A good way to address other worldviews is to read books written from such other viewpoints and then discuss them together. This is a perfect opportunity for you to share your own faith with your child and the reasons why you believe what you believe.

On a practical level for the study of history, this can mean studying both the North and the South’s perspectives on the Civil War, both the Christian and Islamic perspectives on the Crusades, or traditional perspectives on historic events such as Columbus’ discovery of the New World and modern revisionist histories. Read them both and discuss them all along the way! You may be surprised at the deep conversations you end up having with your kids.

If you are going to do this, you must discuss the books with your child. Don’t simply throw a variety of books at him without any discussion. He may simply end up agreeing with the author who did a better job of writing, or he may end up confused about the whole thing. In fact, he might not even notice the differences in worldviews. You are only going to reap the benefits if you take the time to read the book yourself and discuss it with your child.


31 Days of Teaching Homeschool History: Discussing Books and Ideas

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