You will learn how to:
- Use corroborating or challenging to evaluate arguments
- Examine differing explanations of events
Thinking like a Historian
In this lesson you will practice thinking like a historian to evaluate texts about the naming of the Civil Rights Movement.
This means examining the claims, reasons and evidence used in one text and then comparing it to others.
Ultimately, you want to develop a historical explanation that makes the most sense, even if not all parts of all of the texts agree.
Premises and Claims
When evaluating historical texts, remember the key components of the argument presented by these texts: reason and claims.
- A reason is the basis of a logical argument. It is the starting point.
- Claims are the arguments made by the writer or speaker. They are the conclusions reached by following the reasoning.
Evaluating Premises and Claims
When examining historical arguments, look at the logic of the reasons and claims. Ask, “Does this argument make sense?”
In addition, remember that historical arguments (claims) are based on evidence. You will also need to look at the content and the use of evidence as part of your evaluation.
Evidence is evaluated by sourcing and corroborating/challenging.
Sourcing is examining the sources (the texts) to determine their background and how that background influences the information contained within that evidence.
Some sources are more credible than others.
Another aspect of evaluating the evidence used in historical arguments is corroborating.
Corroborating is comparing a new text to another in order to check the accuracy of the evidence and the plausibility of the claims and reasons.
If the two documents agree — either in fact or in reasoning and claims — then the new historical evidence is corroborated by the previous source.
Corroboration in History
Historians corroborate texts multiple times and use different documents when synthesizing sources as historical evidence.
Often a “rule of three” is applied. That is, if the evidence or claim found in one source can be corroborated by at least two other sources, then it can be accepted as valid.
Looking at Arguments – Challenging
What happens when a source presents evidence or claims that seem outlandish or unbelievable?
Then you must investigate further to see if this source agrees with the facts or arguments of established sources. This process is called challenging.
It will require further research on your part to decide if you think the source is credible and reliable and how it fits into the overall historical narrative.
Building an Explanation
Once you have examined and corroborated the sources, the next step is to combine them into a coherent historical explanation.
Do this by:
- Focusing on the task
- Consider the source
- Compare and contrast the sources
- Construct your own claim
Listen to the clip below:
Now that you have the necessary skills, it is time to practice evaluating historical explanations by corroborating and challenging.
You will do this by examining three sources to evaluate this historical claim:
The Civil Rights Movement was a United States social movement “aimed at outlawing racial discrimination against African Americans and restoring their voting rights,” began in 1955 and ended in 1968.
Using Evidence to Evaluate Explanations- Example 1
The Civil Rights Movement Veterans (CRMVet) website features sources about the Movement written by former activists themselves.
In their introductory pages, CRMVet answers the question “What and when was the Civil Rights Movement?” Read the two paragraphs that follow, starting with “To most Movement veterans…” and ending with “…the beginning of the next cycle.”
Consider, how does this source corroborate or challenge the claim that the Movement focused on “outlawing racial discrimination against African Americans and restoring their voting rights,” from 1955 to 1968?
Example 1: Evaluation
Listen to the clip:
“What and when was the Civil Rights Movement?” both corroborates and challenges the claim:
Using Evidence to Evaluate Explanation- Example 2
James T. Patterson wrote an overview of “The Civil Rights Movement: Major Events and Legacies” for the Gilder Lehrman Institute, a well-known national resource for history teachers and students.
Click here to read his explanation of the Movement’s focus after 1965. Look at paragraphs 17 through 19, starting with “The focus on voting rights…” and ending with “…blow to the Civil Rights Movement.”
Example 2: Evaluation
Listen to the clip:
The Civil Rights Movement: Major Events and Legacies corroborates some information in the claim and challenges other information.
Using Evidence to Evaluate Explanation – Example 3
A 2011 interview with former black nationalist activist Kathleen Cleaver gives you another source to corroborate the claim. Click here to watch part of her interview, starting at 1:14:00 (“And so, what I’m getting at…”) and ending at 1:15: 00 (“…put out ideas, put out people.”).
While you watch, ask yourself how this source corroborates or challenges the claim that the Movement focused on “outlawing racial discrimination against African Americans and restoring their voting rights,” from 1955 to 1968?
Example 3: Evaluation
Kathleen Cleaver’s interview does agree with the claim that the Movement should be defined as efforts to procure legal protections of rights, ending in 1968.
This can be seen in her “electoral politics” remark and her statement, “the people had stopped talking about civil rights, uh, because the Civil Rights Act had passed.”
Her “revolution” comment indicates that she thinks the Movement had other goals beyond legal rights. In this she corroborates the Civil Rights Movement Veterans and Patterson.
You have just looked at three documents to corroborate and challenge one claim:
The Civil Rights Movement was a United States social movement “aimed at outlawing racial discrimination against African Americans and restoring their voting rights,” that began in 1955 and ended in 1968.
A chart can help you determine how these sources compare:
|Source||Movement Goals||Dates||Corroborates Claim||Evidence|
Look at the table below to see how your sources compare, both for argument and for evidence.
|Source||Movement Goals||Dates||Corroborates Claim||Evidence|
|CRM Vets||Full equality||1951-1968||Some – agrees on legal rights, but disagrees on dates and overall goals.||
|Patterson||Legal rights; Then social and economic equality||?-1968(post 1965)||Some—agrees on legal rights but disagrees at what point the Civil Rights Movement shifts.||
|Kathleen Cleaver||Legal rights; Then social and economic equality||?||Some—agrees on legal rights but disagrees because says Civil Rights Movement goals shift post 1968.||
Building an Explanation– Claim Corroboration
Taken together these sources- the Civil Rights Movement Veterans piece, Patterson, and Kathleen Cleaver’s interview – all point to a shift in the focus of the Civil Rights Movement from legal objectives (desegregation and voting rights) to broader goals. They disagree on when this shift occurred, and therefore, on the end date of the Movement.
The three sources also cite similar evidence: the rise of Black Power in 1966, the Civil Rights Act of 1968, and King’s assassination in 1968. These similarities are useful because they allow you to corroborate this evidence as important and to trust the sources overall.
“aimed at outlawing racial discrimination against African Americans and restoring their voting rights,” that began in 1955 and ended in 1968.
Building an Explanation- Example
Your task is to put together the initial claim and the corroborated sources into a coherent claim of your own. Here is a sample version:
The African-American Civil Rights Movement did “aim at outlawing racial discrimination against African Americans and restoring their voting rights.” However, this claim is not completely accurate. Although the African-American Civil Rights Movement in the United States focused on legal rights (desegregation and voting), the Movement’s focus shifted to broader goals after the 1965 passage of the Voting Rights Act. The rise of Black Power in 1966, the Civil Rights Act of 1968, and Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination in 1968 also contributed to this shift. The broader goals of social and economic equality continued to be an issue after 1968.
You learned and practiced:
- How to corroborate and challenge historical claims
- You also used these claims to build an explanation