History and Memory Lesson 4: Historians Interpret Sources

Explore the Role of the Historian
07122012_EDU_hm2_jfk-innauguration_main.jpg
Chief Justice Earl Warren (right) shown administering the oath of office to John F. Kennedy on January 20, 1961. Courtesy the John F. Kennedy Library

Historians are interpreters. This lesson helps students understand how to think critically when reading an historic account of an event. The many roles of a historian are outlined and discussed, as well as the way in which critical judgment helps form the “story” of history as it is written and the importance of reliable sources. The historian Conover Hunt's writing about JFK is used as an example.

Suggested Time Frame:

Introduction: 10 minutes
Independent Reading and Comprehension: 20 minutes
Class Discussion: 20 minutes

Total time: 1 class period  

Objectives:

  • Students will identify and discuss the role of a historian
  • Students will identify and categorize sources
  • Students will interpret historical documents
  • Students will connect passages from writings
  • Students will evaluate the usefulness and information gained from source materials to build understanding
 
Procedure
President Kennedy delivers a speech to crowds assembled in Monessen, Pa., 1961. Photo by Charles "Teenie" Harris, courtesy Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, The Charles "Teenie" Harris Archive
President Kennedy delivers a speech to crowds assembled in Monessen, Pa., 1961. Photo by Charles "Teenie" Harris, courtesy Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, The Charles "Teenie" Harris Archive

Handout

The following handout is included in the Lesson PDF: 

Historical Sources and Historians

Lesson Procedure:

  1. Introduce and discuss the role of the historian as an interpreter of source material.
  2. The Historian: 

    Interprets the past to help us understand the present and shape our future.

    Searches for clues, like a detective, through primary and secondary sources in order to explain and analyze events.

    Tells a story to an audience about what happened, why people acted, and why events occurred in the ways that they did over a period of time.

    Makes critical judgments about the past.

  3. Students should read excerpts from the historian Conover Hunt writing about John F. Kennedy and from primary source documents using the handout: Historical Sources and Historians.
  4. In class discussion students should be able to:
    • Identify the type of sources and whether they are primary or secondary in nature.
    • Evaluate the reliability of the sources.
    • Connect passages from the historian’s writing that directly relate to the inaugural speech and vice versa.
    • Explain whether having the source along with the historical text aids in their understanding of the information. If so, how?
     
 
Assessment

Warhol Education Rubrics

Click the Warhol Rubric headers below to reveal associated rubrics to which this lesson applies.

Communication
Historical Context