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Student Work

Spanish-American War: Think Aloud 1

Watch Matt think about sourcing.
Download Quicktime

Matt is reading the second document in the warm-up activity, an excerpt from the New York Times written the day after the Maine blew up in Havana harbor. In this clip, we see him reading the end of the first full paragraph--a quote from Secretary Long.

Matt reads the text fairly quickly, and then makes this comment, "Actually, I think it's kind of interesting, because the first document was saying how all the navy officials were certain that it was a mine and now, I guess the next day, they’re like, oh we didn’t say that. Kind of interesting switch."

Matt's comment shows that he has understood the text and even compared its literal meaning with the previous document, an excerpt from the Journal. While Naval officers are cited in both documents, the newspapers differ about what those officers say caused the explosion. To his credit, Matt has noticed this contradiction and finds the difference, "kind of interesting."

But, how Matt solves this contradiction shows that he has not read the document historically. Matt sees the contradiction as an overnight "switch." Yet, if he read the attributions at the bottom of each document, he would see that they were written on the same day. This information would help him understand that from the outset, different newspapers represented the explosion and its causes differently.

Historians "source" each document they read. They check who wrote the document and in what setting, before reading its contents. Matt’s quick erroneous solution shows that he needs to slow down and ask questions to understand these documents and why they differ--to notice each article's source and tone.

Most students need explicit instruction in the practice of "sourcing" documents. They will need to be taught to consider a document's author, genre, date, audience, and purpose to more fully understand that document's contents.