History, Interpretation

History, Interpretation

One of the most important skills a historian develops is the ability to evaluate historical documents. This evaluation concerns asking questions of the documents that allows a historian to have insight in a particular topic or period being investigated. This week’s documents relate to the weekly module topic. This week’s documents relate to the weekly module topic of culture and cultural interaction. If you still need help prioritizing your questions of the document go to the Document Interpretation Tutorial Page. Use the questions below to learn how to analyze various types of sources and to become an historian yourself. 


In this weekly discussion assignment you will need to:

  1. Choose one of the documents below to read.
  2. Write a 250-500 word initial post and and present your interpretation of the document and the material you have been introduced to in this module.This is due by: Thursday, 11:59 pm.
  3. Respond to at least 2 other classmates’ interpretations. Your response is due by: Sunday 11:59 pm.

 Of the Servants and Slaves in Virginia (Links to an external site.)

  •  Why do you think that the document makes such a strong distinction between the male and female slaves and servants? What does this say about a women’s place in society (slave or servant)?
  • How effective were the legal rights granted to indentured servants?
  • Are the concessions given at the end of the document a reflection of reality at this time? Why or why not?

 Gottlieb Mittelberger,  (Links to an external site.)The Passage of Indentured Servants (Links to an external site.) 

  • Do you notice any significant difference between the passage of indentured servants and enslaved Africans across the Atlantic? If so what of them?
  • Does the sale of children reveal anything about the way in which the elite city dwellers viewed the indentured servants?

Olaudah Equiano, The Middle Passage (1788) (Links to an external site.)

  • Typically the actions of Europeans engaging in the slave trade are viewed as cruel for the sake of being cruel.  In reading the document do you notice any other motivations for the cruelty of slave drivers?
  • Equiano notes that, “… I found some black people about me, who I believe were some of those who brought me on board, and had been receiving their pay…” What may this reveal about the nature of the slave trade and/or challenge how you thought it was carried out?

Richard Frethorne, Letter to his Parents (1623) (Links to an external site.)

  • Does the servants call to be back in England say anything about what the conditions they were promised as a laborer and what they received?
  • Does the ill treatment of indentured servants reveal anything about how the elite viewed this source of labor?

 Elizabeth Sprigs, Letter to get Father (Links to an external site.)

  • Why did Elizabeth become an indentured servant in Maryland?
  • What were the conditions that drove Elizabeth to be her father for aid.

Discussion Guidelines

Read and respond to others’ posts as well, keeping in mind some basic rules for netiquette (Links to an external site.):

  • Be kind and respectful to others
  • Use full sentences
  • Don’t use too much jargon
  • Treat others online as you wish to be treated
  • Use language that supports others


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