Posted by: profe | January 24, 2019


And away we go! This will be our first “regular week” of the semester. Our goal will be begin to connect the dots of “the long Sixties” and explore some of the contexts that gave rise and shape to movements for racial justice in the post-World War II era.

First, your “All About YOU” bio is due to me via WordPress. It takes a bit of time to get you situated as a contributor to our site, so you’ll want to get on that soon. Instructions are on an earlier post.

On Tuesday we will begin class with our first collective discussion. As described on the syllabus, I will choose FIVE to SEVEN students at random to participate. You should prepare by 1) doing the readings; 2) preparing to verbally analyze the readings; and 3) printing out THREE to FIVE analytical questions or discussion prompts. If you’re selected to participate, I’ll collect your questions/prompts.

Our readings relate to the historic Brown v. Board court case. They are provided to you as Digital Course Readings (DCR 2 and DCR 3) via Sakai. We’ll follow-up our discussion with a short lecture.

On Thursday we’ll have a regular, in-class lecture and a (less formal) discussion of one primary source, provided to you as DCR 4. You will also turn-in your first Critical Evaluation Exercise, which you will write based on that source.

The Critical Evaluation Exercise is a short (2-3 page) essay interacting with a historical primary source. It should be composed in accordance with the course guidelines for written assignments (provided as an appendix on our syllabus).

This is NOT a paper. It is a written display of your historical meaning-making skills. In short, you make and substantiate an argument about what the source means. You do this by discussing the document as a piece of historical evidence that provides us access to the ways people thought, felt, and/or reacted in their particular context. Finally, use it to evaluate the larger context of which the document is a part.

You don’t have to summarize the document, but you should identify the basics. You should quote from it often and regularly to develop your perspective. Quotes and specific engagement with the text are the proof of your argument and analysis.

A successful write-up uses the source to illuminate the past by exploring the interplay between text and time and developing a sense of the significance of the source. To do this you must critically evaluate the argument and perspective communicated in the primary source document, making sense of it from within the historical context within which it was produced. Be mindful of engaging the text empathically, that is, on the author’s own terms. Evaluate it as someone else’s “truth.” Explore how it made sense to them in a given time and place, instead of judging it from your position in the present.

Finally, remember that all sources have multiple stories to tell. There is never “one answer” to any historical source. The burden is to select one meaning and carry the reader through your analysis with convincing support.

Be well until next week!

This is the bus Rosa Parks boarded on December 1, 1955.  It is now fully restored and on display at the Henry Ford Museum, in Dearborn, Michigan.


  1. *** I hope I’m posting this in the right place. Profe, could you let me know if I’m not?

    I’d like to continue our discussion about the reasoning employed by the Supreme Court in Brown v. Board of Education. The holding of the case is expressed in two famous sentences: “We conclude that, in the field of public education, the doctrine of ‘separate but equal’ has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.” The correctness of this conclusion may seem self-evident today, but in the context of judicial chambers in the early 1950s, the impossibility of “separate but equal” (in public education and elsewhere) was not obvious to everyone. This helps to explain Chief Justice Warren’s reliance on social science to support his assertion that “[s]eparate educational facilities are inherently unequal.” If the Chief had failed to cite some evidence to this effect, there would have been something missing from his opinion.

    Which brings me to my question: Are we sympathetic to the Supreme Court’s decision to cite psychological and sociological literature, or do we think there was some better line of reasoning to follow? As Phoebe suggested, one alternative might be to let the victims of racial oppression speak for themselves, without the mediation of the white academy. Perhaps another option would be to rely on Marxist historical thinking, more aligned with W.E.B. DuBois than Gunnar Myrdal. How (if at all) would the impact of the decision have been different if it had been based on one of these alternative approaches?

    This question might have some bearing on how we see ourselves, as students of history, in relation to our peers from other disciplines. Do we, like Earl Warren, consider social science to be a major source of truth, or do we view it more skeptically?

  2. Better to submit it the same way you did your short bio. I’ll consolidate and post later. Thanks!

    • Sorry about that, but thanks for the clarification. I’ll resubmit.

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