Primary Source

My primary source is “A Caveat Against Popery,” which is a reaction against an earlier publication “A Caveat Against the Methodists.”

It has several important strengths.  It is not an account of an event but a catechism of sorts for Protestants, so it gives an interesting account of religion in the new United States soon after the ratification of the Constitution.   I have a copy of a microfiche, which is a copy of the original kept somewhere else.  As a result, I do have something resembling the original document; I do not have to worry about mistakes of later copiers; any typographical errors are original to the printing and not a transcription error.

The largest weakness of the source is related to the fact that it is a copy of a copy.  The visual quality has decreased due to those copies; some words are difficult if not impossible to understand on the printout I have.  Even the microfiche was difficult to interpret sometimes.  Also, the document is limited in that it is only a reaction to an earlier publication; I need to see the other “Caveat” and learn more about the conditions at the time of publication in the area to fully contextualize this source.  Another weakness is that the author is anonymous, which means I cannot learn about the person authoring the document in order to analyze it.


The Good:
This site is from the Maryland Historical Society, which lends credibility to this source.  Also, this collection has an extensive bibliography as well as many primary documents linked to or included in the collection.

The Bad: 
This site doesn’t work so well as a source for a few reasons.  One, there are no sources cited or even referenced; two, the tone is very casual and not scholarly; three, the layout and design of the site is geared towards advertisements, which detracts from any potential scholarly feeling.

The Ugly:
Totally unreliable and generally inaccurate.

Question: Why am I a history major?

I like history  – but then I like a lot of different subjects, too.  So what makes my love of history stand out enough for me to major in it?  It all boils down to an experience from middle school. 

In the 8th grade, I was in a special, experimental history class.  Instead of the regular pattern of homework assignments and tests, we would work on a yearlong project as a group.  Our topic was the German and Italian prisoner-of-war camp from World War II that was on the same grounds as our school at Ft. Knox, Kentucky.  My friend and I became the project leaders, and I discovered that I enjoyed “working in the field” and getting my hands deep into primary sources to find the story of the POWs. 

Unlike most middle school research projects which consist of consulting textbooks, Google results, and the mandatory encyclopedia entry, we spent very little time reading about other research done on these people and their lives in the US; in fact, there was very little literature to consult, as this particular topic seems to be one not often addressed in history classes or in history books.  We also had a wealth of information from local sources to investigate, which included field trips to locations where the POWs worked off-post, translating copies of the camp newspaper the prisoners wrote and distributed (from the original German, too), and contacting several former POWs to gain first-hand accounts of life immediately before, during, and after their time at Ft. Knox.

Finally, we wrote several essays and pamphlets describing our findings and presented them to a collection of local community leaders.  It was a fascinating experience and turned a general enjoyment of history into a real and tangible understanding of the application of history.  To tell the story of actual people who lived, worked, and died is a vital part of comprehending the world in which we live.  This is what drives my decision to major in history and what keeps me dedicated to every history class I take.