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Friday, May 6, 2011

Making Sense of Documents and Scholars in Action

I just stumbled on History Matters “Making Sense of Evidence" Page. The page contains a series of links designed to help students and teachers make effective use of primary sources. It is organized into two sections:
  • “Making Sense of Documents” provide strategies for analyzing online primary materials, with interactive exercises and a guide to traditional and online sources.
  • “Scholars in Action” segments show how scholars puzzle out the meaning of different kinds of primary sources, allowing you to try to make sense of a document yourself then providing audio clips in which leading scholars interpret the document and discuss strategies for overall analysis.
Because there was so much interest in the emails I sent out over the last year on using photographs as historical sources, I looked specifically at the links involving photo analysis, “Making Sense of Documentary Photography” and “Scholars in Action: Analyzing Photographs.” Both are nicely interactive, asking users to participate by answering questions or otherwise engage with the material before learning what the experts say.

In Making Sense of Documentary Photography, historian James Curtis offers a brief history of documentary photography, examples of what questions to ask when examining a documentary photograph, and an annotated bibliography and list of online resources for documentary photography.

“Scholars in Action: Analyzing Photographs” presents historian Frank Goodyear’s interpretation of an 1850s daguerreotype of Niagara Falls. I couldn’t get the sound to work, but I could read the transcripts—which I found insightful but maybe less enjoyable than hearing the actual interview.

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