Defining Documents in American History, offers primary sources and in-depth analytical essays that explore the historical narratives of authors and the events and ideas of their period. The two-volume set Exploration and Colonial America: 1492-1755 begins in the period of European exploration in the Americas and continues through the settlement of the colonies. Designed for college-age students, the aim is to advance historical document studies as an important activity in learning about history.
The selection draws upon the major documents of the period, including the accounts of early exploration into North America, as well as reports on the encounters and struggles of early settlement. In addition, the collection offers less known yet essential primary sources from a diverse collection of authors reporting on the social, political, and religious developments in the colonies from multiple perspectives. The analysis of primary sources will establish the currency of the social and political meaning in primary source documents for today’s researchers.
Essay and Volume Format
Developed in consultation with an expert in the field of teaching history, this set contains 66 complete and excerpted primary source documents and analytical essays. Each essay is 6,000 words, consisting of a 4,000-word analysis and a 2,000-word primary source. Readers will appreciate the diversity of the collected texts, including journals, letters, speeches, and political sermons, among other genres. Critical essays, written by historians and teachers, begin by introducing readers to the historical period, followed by a brief biography of the author and the events that surround the composition of the document. An important feature of the essays is a close reading of the primary source that develops evidence of broader themes, such as an author’s rhetorical purpose, social or class position, point of view, and other relevant issues. In addition, essays are organized by chapter themes, highlighting major issues in the period, many of which continue to shape American life. Each chapter begins with an introduction that will explain the questions and problems, in some cases the dilemmas, underlying the subjects in the historical documents. A brief glossary highlights keywords important in the study of the primary source. Each essay offers a section of Additional Reading for further research.
- 80 Lesson Plans follow national history standards for learning designed to guide students and educators in document analysis and historical comprehension. Study questions, activities, and suggested author pairings will establish the legacy of documents and authorship for readers today. In addition, comparative analysis highlights how documents often emerge from a myriad of influences.
- Historical Timeline and Chronological List of titles will support readers in understanding the broader events and subjects in the period.
- Bibliography lists helpful supplemental readings for further study.
Documents in the early colonial period may present a challenge for the uninitiated reader due to idiosyncrasies in language. The editors opted to maintain the colonial English language and spellings in a number of texts, while ensuring clarity for readers. This issue is most prominent in the use of the long “s” for the miniscule “s” used at the beginning or middle of a word (e.g., “vessel” is spelled “veffel”). In addition, many documents present a complex publication history. For several documents, we have maintained the editorial decisions for script and format made by publishers in the eighteenth and nineteenth century. While these texts may depart from the conventions of contemporary styles, we wish to maintain the authority of the original source as a valuable element of historical document studies.