This essay assignment is a primary source analysis on Legalizing Slavery in Colonial America. Please refer to the Primary Sources found on your Learning Activities page below;

Learning about Primary Sources

What Are Primary Sources?  

Primary sources are original documents, firsthand accounts, and physical objects written or created during the time under study. They are created by witnesses or recorders who experienced the events or conditions being documented. Often these sources are created at the time when the events or conditions are occurring, but primary sources can also include autobiographies, memoirs, and oral histories recorded later.

Primary sources are the raw materials of history. They are different from secondary sources, accounts or interpretations of events created by someone without firsthand experience. They provide a window into the past—unfiltered access to the contemporary records.  Primary sources enable researchers and readers to get as close as possible to what actually happened during an historical event or time period, which is different from the secondary sources like books and articles that focus on analyzing historical events and people based on primary sources.  Examples of primary sources include: Diaries, speeches, manuscripts, letters, interviews, news film footage, autobiographies, official records, and more recently, emails and social media postings as original documents.  Often artifacts and relics like pottery, furniture, clothing, buildings and more are used as primary sources.

Why Study Primary Sources?

Primary sources allow history students to be their own historical detective, piecing together the puzzle of the past by using materials created by the people who lived it.  Since historians can’t use direct observation and experimentation to prove their arguments, they must rely on analyzing the records left behind by the people we’re trying to understand.

Reading and analyzing primary sources is both fun and challenging.  When we start reading primary sources, we start doing history by engaging with historical inquires and analysis. In the end you’ll find that it’s much more fun and rewarding than just passively accepting the conclusions of others.

Primary sources can help us relate in a personal way to events of the past and promote a deeper understanding of history as a series of human events. Because primary sources are snippets of history, they encourage us to seek additional evidence through research. First-person accounts of events helps make history learning more real and engaging.

Primary Sources help us sharpen critical thinking and analytical skills. We need to be both critical and analytical as we read and examine documents and objects. Primary sources are often incomplete and have little context, which require us to use prior knowledge and work with multiple primary sources to find patterns. In analyzing primary sources, we move from simple observations to concrete inferences about the materials.  As we examine the primary sources, we automatically question their origins, purposes, and possible biases, which in turn challenge our assumptions and sharpen our critical thinking skill.

Primary sources help us construct knowledge and deepen understanding.  Inquiry into primary sources encourages us to wrestle with contradictions and compare multiple sources that represent differing points of view.  We construct and expand knowledge as we form reasoned conclusions based on evidence.  Analyzing primary sources help us seek contextual information and synthesize information from multiple sources.

How to Study Primary Sources?

In order to fully understand a primary source and their historical significance, we need to follow the simple steps:

  1. Identify the Source.  It’s critical that we know what type of source we are dealing with so that we can think about appropriate questions.  In order to gain historical perspectives and detect biases, we need to know when, where, and by whom the source was created.
  2. Contextualize the Source. It’s important that we know the historical context and motivations of the primary source.  
  3. Explore the Source. In order for us to get the most out of each source, we need to ask the following questions as we read primary source: What factual information is conveyed in this source? To what extend the presented facts are accurate.  What opinions are related in this source? What is implied or conveyed unintentionally in the source? What is not said in this source? What do I not understand in this source?
  4. Analyze the Source. How does the creator of the source convey information and make his/her point? What was the time and place in which this source was created? What significant differences are there between that world and our world today? How would you feel if you were in the author’s shoes? What would be reasonable to expect of the author, given his or her historical context? How might others at the time have reacted to this source?
  5. Assessing the Source. How does this source compare to other primary sources and secondary accounts? What do you believe and disbelieve from this source? What do you still not know — and where can you find that information?

Videos on Primary Sources:

Slavery in the United States was governed by an extensive body of law developed after the 1660s. Virginia became the first colony to pass a comprehensive slave code in 1705, which served as the base of other slave codes in the Southern colonies and states before the Civil War. In your essay on legalizing slavery, you are required to read the primary sources on the Learning Activities page.

Your essay needs a brief introduction and critical analysis in comprehensive paragraphs with a minimum of 300 words. It should be based on your primary source reading and it needs to demonstrate your analysis of the documents. Three or more specific in-text source citations are needed.

Please consider the following questions when you write the essay:

How did the slave codes make slavery a permanent condition?
How did race play a role in enslaving Africans in colonial America?
In what specific ways were the slaves defined as property?
Why couldn’t slaves be a party to a contract including marriage?
How did the slave codes regulate free blacks?
How do you compare the South Carolina slave code of 1740 with the Virginia slave code of 1705?

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