Researching the Historical Context


Your task in this project is to learn what was going on in the United States at the time of the speech. You will need to take a broad and narrow approach to this question simultaneously. That is, you need to know the general sweep of history in which the situation occurs and the specific context for this particular speech. In some ways this is the most difficult of the research assignments because it requires breadth in your reading and research.


Klumpp and Read, pp. 9-10.

Questions to Ask

Strategies for Research

  1. I would start by reading short general characterizations of the time. Timelines of events of the time (chronologies) can also be helpful. You can probably access these sufficiently on the web. Just put a decade into a search engine, for example, "1830s". Surf through the things that come up to get an idea of what was going on during that decade. Remember, however, that these are not well vetted information, so don't be surprised if you find they are exaggerated or even untrue.
  2. Remaining at that general level, pick up an American history textbook. Any text will do. Using the table of contents and the index locate chapters of the book that cover the period you are studying. There may be several with one covering ordinary life, another politics, another the economy and so forth. It is a good idea if in doing this step everyone in the group takes a different text or two.
  3. Now is a good time to get together as a group and compare your notes. By this time you should have located some important people and events. It is time to work into more specific information. Look in a search facility like "Academic Search Premier" using those as search terms. Pick out some more in-depth research to work with. Coordinate your research as a group splitting up items in the bibliography that you are building.
  4. While meeting with your group, assess what you have learned and what you have yet to learn. Use the questions above as a query guide. Can you answer them? Are the answers well established and agreed upon by historians. Spread your work out into additional sources at this point and use indexes and search to find answers to these questions.
  5. Now sit down as a group and share your findings. If you find that there are holes in your research, return to the library with specific assignments.

Preparing Your Oral Report

You will have fifteen minutes to present your findings. As a group, decide what things are important to report to the members of the class. Your effort must familiarize the class with what the country is like at the time, but with cognizance of the speech we are studying. For example, your history of Jefferson's time will probably stress the politics of the time more than the economics. But do realize you are not researching the specific situation, Jefferson's assuming the office of president in our example. Formulate the important things into a report. Decide how you will present it orally. Time the presentation. You will be on the clock. Check with the criteria for the oral report to make certain you have planned a satisfactory presentation.

Preparing Your Bibliography

Select the 10-20 sources that when combined into a full bibliography meet the criteria specified for the assignment. You do not report all sources you consulted but select those when taken together best reflect your oral report. Remember, judging the sufficiency of your bibliography does not involve counting but meeting these criteria. Review the annotations to make certain they reflect the required information for each source. Then execute the honors pledge and hand it in.