Your Goal

Over the course of the term, you and your classmates will have the opportunity to become historians. Rather than simply absorbing information from textbooks and other resources, you will actively investigate, evaluate, and write about historical issues. You will begin by examining original primary documents—everything from letters and newspapers to court cases, plantation records, and sheet music. You will analyze these documents with your own trained critical eye place them in a larger historical context, using secondary sources. Your next task will be to create written episodes that tell a story about your primary sources and their context. Finally, after review from your instructor, you will publish your episodes on the History Engine site, making them accessible to the public. Together, these episodes will help to make up one of the most complete digitized records of American life.

So what's an "episode" anyway?

An episode is a story about anything from a congressional act to a meeting between two neighbors, from a store receipt to a love letter, from a painting to a children's picture book, told from the contents of one or more primary sources. The goal of the episode is not to recount textbook-like facts, but to try to understand the past from the perspective of the Americans who lived it. The episode provides the details of daily occurrences found in one or more primary sources and contextualizes those details with information from secondary sources.

How is this assignment different from a term paper?

Cosmetically, episodes are shorter in length—a maximum of two double-spaced pages each. But the goal of the assignment is also different: an episode should be built around a story, not an argument. The focus of your episode should be one primary source (or a couple of documents about the same family, issue, town, etc.). Your job will be to tell the story of this source and explain its significance to American life. A final important difference is that your instructor will not be the only person reading your final product. You will make an important contribution to understanding the American past by uploading your finished episodes to the History Engine database.