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
- How did Americans of the time live their lives? How particularly did they
encounter communication from their leaders?
- What were the great issues facing the nation at the time?
- What were the politics of the time like? How was power distributed among
classes in society? Among political institutions? Between those with economic
power and those with political power?
- Where were the tensions in the culture? Who aligned with whom? Whom did
- What were the forces for change in the society? How were those forces opposed?
- What values were important in the culture of that time that were different
from our own?
- Who were the important leaders of that day? In politics? In the economy?
Strategies for Research
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.