LU5: Historical Themes
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This week we begin our most significant writing, emphasizing themes. We have been practicing so we can get to this point, doing more of what historians actually do.
As you know, historians do not memorize facts. They see trends throughout time, and use these trends to understand both the past and the present.
A historical theme is a trend, presented as an interpretive thesis, but supported by evidence from several different eras instead of just one or two.
A number of weeks over the course of the semester we have posted evidence from one particular timeframe or era in the Primary Sources Board, but this writing assignment (and the final essay) must include evidence from multiple eras.
Yes – the work you do here may be considered as the outline for your final essay, so long as you are happy with your subject!
Themes are narrow enough to have a point of view, even though they are broad enough to cover several eras. They show a repeating trend, rather than progress over time.
One way to begin a theme is to focus on a topic area, such as fashion, sexuality, class differences, cloth-making technology, the role of philosophy, ways in which literature reflects society, sports, games, furniture design, domestic architecture, dancing, political conflict, holiday celebrations, religious texts, expressions of spirituality, mass communication – the possibilities are endless.
For this assignment we start with a theme (in bold text), and use six sources in pairs with a topic sentence (in italics) that covers them both. The format will be like an essay, with no numbers or letters:
I. Historical theme
II. Topic sentence that supports the theme
A. Primary source #1 with explanation
B. Primary source #2 with explanation
III. Topic sentence that supports the theme
A. Primary source #3 with explanation
B. Primary source #4 with explanation
IV. Topic sentence that supports the theme
A. Primary source #1 with explanation
B. Primary source #2 with explanation
V. Brief conclusion
Avoid problems with themes
Here’s a list of common problems to avoid for themes:
• The progressive theme problem.
The theme features advancement or improvement over time, when it needs to focus on a repeating trend.
• The “throughout history” problem.
The theme should not use phrases like “throughout history” or “across the ages”.
• The “and” problem.
The theme should not try to cover more bases by using “and”, unless everything in it is proven in every paragraph.
• The “or” problem.
The theme should not contain “or”, which encourages paragraphs that focus on only part of the theme.
• The so broad it’s obvious problem.
This is similar to the big, factual thesis problem.
Writing assignment instructions (55 points):
Create an outline with a theme and three topic sentences, each supported by two fully-cited primary sources from various Primary Sources Boards, with a brief explanation of how each source supports the topic. All sources must be from a Primary Sources Board (you may add any fully cited sources to any Board at any time).
Here is an example of an A assignment:
The Declaration of Independence states that ‘All men are created equal’ yet at any given time in Modern American history, the outlook of society has betrayed the country’s founding ideals of equality.
Back as far as 1619 when the first slaves were brought over from Africa to the American colony in Jamestown, black people were treated unfairly and unequally. If “All men are created equal” then this treatment of black people should have been dealt with at that time. Instead America continued using black African American slaves to help build the economic foundations of the new nation. Many slaves were treated badly as outlined by Frederick Douglass in his 1845 narrative ( http://www.frederick-douglass-heritage.org/ (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site.) Even after the American Civil War (1861-65) when four million slaves were freed after the Union victory, the legacy of slavery continued to have an impact on American history with continued discrimination against black people. The first manifestation of the Ku Klux Klan during the Reconstruction era used threats and violence in response to the newly gained political and civil rights by southern blacks after the civil war. The Union As it Was, a cartoon created by Thomas Nast in 1874, depicting members of the Ku Klux KLan intimidating a black family who huddle in fear. (http://www.georgiaencyclopedia.org/articles/history-archaeology/ku-klux-klan-reconstruction-era (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site.).
Another, even larger sector of the population have faced bias and discrimination; women. Yes, the Declaration states that all MEN are equal, but this is an umbrella term, covering mankind. Before and after the civil war notable leaders of the emancipation of women movement included Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton who hosted the Seneca Fall Convention on women’s rights and Susan B Anthony, all of whom had campaigned for slavery abolition before championing women’s right to vote. The National Woman’s Party (NWP), was a women’s organization founded in 1917 that fought for women’s rights during the early 20th century in the United States, particularly for the right to vote on the same terms as men. It wasn’t until World War 1 that there was the final push for women’s suffrage in America. In January 1918 President Woodrow Wilson relented and gave a pro suffrage speech. In 1919, women got the right to vote when Congress passed the Nineteenth Amendment. This 1919 picture shows women protesting for their rights in front of the White House (http://2012books.lardbucket.org/books/united-states-history-volume-2/s07-from-populism-to-the-progressi.html (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site.) prior to the Nineteenth Amendment. During both the First and Second World Wars women replaced men in the workplace as the men went overseas to fight. They also filled many new jobs that were created to serve the war effort. After both Wars, women often had to return to their duties at home as they were no longer required in the workplace. This was a set back because although they had previously fought for the right to vote, they were now doomed to back in their role as subservient to men. This 1950 advertisement (http://www.partselect.com/JustForFun/Top-Vintage-Christmas-Ads.aspx (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site.) asks wives to choose their Christmas present from several household items implying that this must be the present of choice for the wife whose role is looking after the husband, house and children. It also implies that the husband must be the one to buy the item as the wife has no money of her own. After holding vital war time jobs, women were being told to get back in the kitchen where they rightfully belong. If women did want to work they were encouraged to take jobs that were seen as appropriate for females. This page from The State in 1958 shows how help-wanted advertisements were typically designated as either male or female help.(http://www.teachingushistory.org/tTrove/wantads.htm (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site.)
Members of the the homosexual community have also been treated unfairly and unequally. In the New York Times 1903 news clipping (http://outhistory.org/oldwiki/images/thumb/2/26/AaaAristonNYTFeb22%2c1903.jpeg/400px-AaaAristonNYTFeb22%2c1903.jpeg (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site.) we read about the police raid at the Ariston Bathhouse, the first New York City establishment to be raided over its patron’s sexuality. Sixty men were detained and fourteen arrested due to ‘questionable conduct’. Twelve men were put on trial, seven of whom received prison sentences of multiple years. Things had still not improved for the homosexual community by the 1940’s and 50’s. Along with the ‘Red Scare’ was the ‘Lavender’ scare where republicans stated that homosexuals had infiltrated the federal government during the Roosevelt and Truman administrations and that they along with suspected communists posed a real threat to national security. Homosexuals were considered to be psychologically disturbed and mentally weak which meant they could be easily blackmailed into revealing state secrets. The persecution of homosexuals continued under the Eisenhower administration – civil servants could be dismissed for associating with a known homosexual and many described being interrogated by government security officials about their sex lives. Newspaper reports such as this one in the St. Petersburg Times May 25th 1950 reported the news that ‘perverts’ were officially seen as bad security risks.(http://imgur.com/gallery/cevcM (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site.)
It can be seen then, that the original ideal of ‘All men are created equal’ in the Declaration of Independence has been betrayed time and time again and that this continues to this day with discrimination against various sections of American society.
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