You will learn:
- How to look at sources in order to build an argument
- How to consider the strengths and weaknesses of each source in terms of task, purpose and audience
This will be done in conjunction with learning more about the Freedom Rides.
Finding and Assessing Sources
You know how to find sources. The next step is to decide how well these sources provide the information you need.
Assessing Source Fit
How can you determine if sources are right for your research task?
Assessing sources requires examining them with these three questions in mind:
- What task must be completed and does this source help to meet that goal?
- What is the purpose of this source?
- What is the intended audience of this source?
Task refers to the goals you have been asked to meet. It’s the assignment. You have a problem and you need information to solve it.
For example, your task is to determine if other social groups used the example of or their experience of participating in the Civil Rights Movement as inspiration for organizing and protesting on their own behalf.
To do this, you will need to determine which social groups experienced similar movements (such as women or Native Americans) and if they themselves, or other historians, saw a connection between these groups and the African-American Civil Rights Movement.
In your research, you may find many sources with information about the overall history of race relations in the United States. They are interesting, but contain limited information about how another group drew inspiration from the Civil Rights Movement.
These sources do not match the task. You will have to keep looking.
Purpose is the reason why the source you are considering was created. For written sources, the text will reflect the author’s intent. There are three types of purposes:
- Persuade – the author wants the audience to agree with the argument being made
- Inform – the author provides the audience with specific information with little or no opinion.
- Entertain – the author wants the audience to enjoy the experience.
If you are researching information about a particular topic, match the purpose of the texts you use to yours. Usually you will need to look at informational texts to gain background knowledge, and persuasive texts to understand what people thought at the time.
The purpose of a source can be found in the title of the text or its use. The information within the source (fact or opinion) and how that information is expressed can indicate the author’s purpose as well.
Here are some titles in different genres. All were found by searching for “women AND civil rights movement.” Each source has a different purpose.
- Casey Hayden and Mary King, “Feminism and the Civil Rights Movement,” 1965 (speech) — persuades
- Davis W. Houck and David E. Dixon,”Women and the Civil Rights Movement,” 1954-1965 (book, secondary source history) — informs
- “Any Day Now” (TV show) — entertains
Audience is the person or group intended to be the reader of the source.
The audience can vary greatly – age, language ability, region, and other cultural indicators all influence the audience. The audience can be uninformed or expert; hostile, friendly or neutral. The audience can have other expectations as well.
Sources often reflect their audiences in how they explain facts or information, and how information is expressed.
Here is an example of the same topic being expressed differently for different audiences. See how a text tailored for an older and more expert audience is more likely to contain the analysis and evidence that you would need for a research project.
Audience: Young and Uninformed
“Civil Rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., born in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1929, never backed down in his stand against racism.”
Audience: Older and Expert
“During the less than 13 years of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s leadership of the modern American Civil Rights Movement, from December, 1955 until April 4, 1968, African Americans achieved more genuine progress toward racial equality in America than the previous 350 years had produced.”
Listen to the clip below:
Sources need to be balanced– your research should reflect many points of view and experiences.
Strengths and Weaknesses of Sources
When assessing a source, you should keep all of these considerations – task, purpose, audience and balance – in mind.
Sources will have strengths and weaknesses. Strong sources address your topic well, and are credible.
Weak sources may not address your task. Their purpose or intended audiences may show that they are unbalanced or don’t support your research.
Strengths and Weaknesses of Sources- Example
When you examine a source, look to see its strengths and weaknesses.
For example, a text that is supposed to inform you about the Civil Rights Movement, but never discusses 1965-1968, has not achieved its purpose of covering the Movement completely.
A Research Task
If you want to answer a question about the spread of the Civil Rights Movement, it will be easier if you have information about specific events.
You may decide to research the Freedom Rides.
Your larger writing task would be to trace the Freedom Rides and see where they went, and then look at the impact of the rides (i.e., did other people in other places conduct similar protests and were they inspired by the original set of Freedom Riders?).
Your task today is to examine a series of sources to gain a sense of what the Freedom Rides were, where they went, and how they spread. In each case, the source will be assessed to see its purpose and audience, its strengths and weaknesses, and how well it fits the task.
The Freedom Rides- Background
The Freedom Rides, according to the Encyclopedia Britannica online, were “a series of political protests against segregation by blacks and whites who rode buses together through the American South in 1961.”
This source needs evaluation, as will the other sources you examine.
Assessing the Source- Encyclopedia
Look at the rest of the Encyclopedia Britannica entry “Freedom Rides” for an overview of the Freedom Rides.
Here is an assessment of this source:
- Task – Matched the task of finding more information about the Rides.
- Audience – General readers
- Purpose -To convey information.
- Strengths – Brief, perhaps balanced
- Weaknesses – Brief, omits details, especially on the remaining rides.
Listen to clip below for more analysis:
Assessing a Source- Web page
Examine this source: the webpage “1961 Freedom Riders’ 40th Reunion: A Brief History” by David Lisker (2001).
Look at the introductory paragraph and the sections: “The First Freedom Riders,” “The Freedom Rides Begin,” and “Carrying On The Struggle.”
Consider how you would assess this source for:
- Source Strengths
- Source Weaknesses
Listen to the clip below:
Assessing a Source- Web page With Interactive map
Now it’s your turn to practice assessing a source.
Go to the website that accompanies the PBS American Experience series “Freedom Riders.” Once there, click through the interactive maps “The Original Rides” and “See Other Freedom Rides”. Look at the content as well as the:
- Source Strengths
- Source Weaknesses
Balanced Source Use
Your use of sources should be balanced, too.
That is to say, your evidence should present all sides of an event and its interpretations, although you may emphasize with some sides over others.
You may use a source that is not balanced as long as you, the person constructing the argument, put together your evidence in a way that is balanced. Present a group of sources as a whole, so that if any source has a problem, another source fills in the gaps. Do this by acknowledging each source’s strengths and weaknesses, while explaining the source’s usefulness to your claim.
Balancing Sources – An Example
Here is an example of balancing sources. Return to the webpage “1961 Freedom Riders’ 40th Reunion: A Brief History” by David Lisker (2001). You have already decided that as a source it is somewhat unbalanced, but you still want to use it.
You can combine this source with the others you have examined and explain how all of the sources, as a group, support your claim.
Crafting an Argument- An Example
Here is an example of how one student crafted an argument, using the sources you have examined.
The Freedom Rides showed how the Civil Rights Movement spread throughout the South and into the North as the rides included more locations and greater numbers of followers from a variety of places. There is some debate as to who should claim credit for originating the rides. As participant David Lasker argued in his article “1961 Freedom Riders’ 40th Reunion: A Brief History,” the Rides began with students from Fisk University in Nashville. Rides spread from Nashville, Washington DC, Memphis and other locations….
- How to assess the strengths and weaknesses of each source in terms of task, purpose and audience
- How to balance sources to craft an argument
You did this by looking at the progress of the Freedom Rides as each ride moved across the United States and as more followed.