Choose one of the primary source documents from the MacLean book, i.e., one of the numbered documents from Part II of the book. Your best bet is to choose one that has a clear argument and has several subtopics or examples.
Your task is to put the document into historical context, using specifics from the document to illustrate the contemporary situation (what was going on at the time). Think of the primary source document as a set of clues you can use to figure out the context that produced the document. Every document is a product of its own distinct place, time, and authorship, and a close reading of the document helps give insight into history.
For the purposes of this assignment, “context” refers only to “background” or “immediate” situation. Context here means “what made it the way it is” and not “what it did to the world.” The effects or legacy of the document, what happens after it is written, is NOT part of the context. The impact of this document on history is not part of this assignment, because that calls for a whole different set of evidence. Documents can be really useful for illustrating the context even if the document never made an impact in its own day. (Just because a source is in a history book does not mean the source is a big milestone or had a big effect – sometimes really obscure sources can be the most informative.)
Sometimes, the editor’s introduction to a document provides a kind of document-in-context argument, usually towards the end of the short italicized paragraph before each document. A good example is Document 12, where the last sentence in the editor’s note mentions the New Deal as part of the background to the source. You are under no obligation to agree with the editor’s interpretation, but it may be a good place to start for ideas about a context argument.
Some examples of ways to approach context (or make up your own):
- How does this document reveal the background of the person/people/organization who made it? For example: goals or assumptions or strategies that particular women’s rights activists brought to the issue
- What is the goal of the document, and how does it try to achieve that goal? For example: what kind of persuasion it uses, what examples it uses, what kind of language it uses
- What does the document suggest about its audience? How is it written with a particular audience in mind? For example: a dissenting opinion, a public speech, an internal document; addressed to all of society, only to women, only to a subset of women, etc.
- How does the document reveal contemporary issues (contemporary to the people making it)? For example: references to current events of the day, responses to critics, how the author agrees or disagrees with others
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