Evaluating Claims: Evaluating a Historian’s Point of View
You will learn how to:
- Evaluate an author or historian’s point of view in sources related to the naming of the Civil Rights Movement
- Assess point of view, reasoning and use of evidence in written documents and speeches
Assessing Point of View and Purpose Through a Historical Sources
Evaluating the point of view and determining the purpose of an author or speaker will enrich your comprehension of historical documents.
Assessing the following aspects of texts will help you do this:
Point of View
“Point of view” is a person’s perspective on the world, or, how events make sense to that person and how she would explain things.
Point of view can vary from person to person for a variety of reasons. The following factors can influence someone’s point of view:
- Past Experience — what someone is likely to notice or understand
- Culture — ethnicity, gender, country of origin, region of origin, language, socio-economic status, religion, political beliefs
- State of Being — age, size, physical abilities, mental abilities, emotions
- Location — in relation to events observed or described
Point of View- Fiction
Point of view can also be literary.
There are first-person (“I”), second-person (“you”), and third-person (“he/she/it/they”) points of view from which a story or history is told.
Fiction often uses first- or third-person.
First-person is seen as more “informal” and “personal,” and sometimes more “unreliable” as the narrator presumably cannot know or explain all of the events.
Point of View- History
Historical texts usually use third-person, although:
- Speeches and interviews are usually in first-person
- Flyers, posters, and speeches sometimes use second-person.
Listen to the clip below:
Point of View – Becoming Involved in the Civil Rights Movement
Watch the interview “When Injustice Was the Norm” with Alice Walker. In this interview segment, her description goes from first-person to third-person to first person.
These shifts correspond to whose story she is telling in the narration: herself, her father, African-Americans in her community and in general, and herself. She starts by describing discrimination her father and others experienced, and ends by explaining why she and others like her joined the Movement.
Point of View and Purpose
Follow the link here to see an editorial cartoon by “cartoon commentator” Bill Mauldin published May 10, 1963 in the Chicago Sun-Times.
Imagine who said “Not so fast!” to the person climbing the rose bush. The climber is responding to that critic.
Mauldin’s purpose is to convince his readers to believe and act in a certain way. By using the quote of the climber underneath the picture, he is aligning himself with the climber’s point of view and invites the cartoon’s readers to see the world his way.
In order to better understand an author’s point of view, examine the claims made by that author.
A claim is the argument made by the writer or speaker. It is the generalized statement which the evidence presented will support.
Claims are Debatable
Because it is an argument, a claim is debatable and requires proof. This separates a “claim” from a “fact.” Facts are not open to debate by reasonable people. Claims, however, should stimulate discussion. They are both thought-provoking and ask important questions about the world.
In history or other classes you will hear about the “thesis statement,” which can be a claim, although it may be a more brief version.
Claim – An Example
A historical claim is complex. It includes the argument being made as well as an overview of the reasoning behind and significance of that argument.
For example, “On June 11, 1963, the president delivered a remarkable, nationally televised address on race and democracy that would stand out as Kennedy’s finest moment as president” is a claim.
[Source: Peniel E. Joseph, “JFK’s 1963 Race Speech Made Him an African-American Icon,” The Root, Nov. 22, 2013]
Claim – An Example: Explained
The argument that Kennedy’s 1963 “Civil Rights Speech” was the best thing he did can be contested by others who think his promotion of the Space Race, defense of
democratic ideals during the Cold War, or creation of the Peace Corps were his most significant accomplishments.
The author or speaker’s reasoning is another element to consider when assessing point of view.
Reasoning is the logical construction of an argument. It is how the author or speaker connects the claim to evidence.
Reasoning also reflects the author’s point of view. The premises on which the claim is based can be shaped by culture or other factors.
Reasoning Helps Audiences
Logical, well-constructed reasoning allows the readers or listeners to follow the process by which the author or speaker reaches the conclusion (the point to be proven, the claim).
Reasoning allows the reader or listener to understand the message and be persuaded by it.
Reasoning- An Example
For example, a claim that the Montgomery Bus Boycott was not spontaneous would require a logical explanation of how this conclusion was reached and why it makes sense:
- Documents before Rosa Parks’ arrest show discussion of plans for boycott.
- Parks herself was active with the local NAACP and knew of the plans.
- Therefore, the boycott had already been put in motion and was more planned than spontaneous.
For more about logic in writing, click here.
Finally, the evidence presented by the person making the reasoned claim is important and can also reflect the author’s point of view. Evidence is the information (facts) that support the claim.
Evidence should be chosen with care. It should not be too distant from the claim in time, space, or relationship to make sense. In other words, the evidence should be relevant.
Evidence- An Example
Return to the claim that the Montgomery Bus Boycott was not spontaneous.
The logic of the reasoning makes sense. Where’s the evidence?
One example of evidence for this claim is a May 21, 1954 letter by Prof. Joanne Robinson to the Mayor of Montgomery. In it she writes, “for even now plans are being made to ride less, or not at all, on our busses.”
Rosa Parks was arrested on December 1, 1955. Combined, these two items support the claim that the bus boycott had been some time in the making.
Evaluating Point of View – Assessing Claims, Reasoning and Evidence
Now you will look at two examples to evaluate point of view by assessing the claims, reasoning, and evidence.
Look for the following:
- Claims — the argument made
- Reasoning — initial premises, logical coherence
- Evidence — what examples are used
Example 1 – Claims, Reasoning, and Evidence
First, visit the “History and Timeline” page of Veterans of the Civil Rights Movement by clicking here.
Read the section “Civil Rights Movement or Freedom Movement?” Consider the claim, the reasoning, and the evidence used as you read.
Example 1: Explained
What does “Civil Rights Movement or Freedom Movement?” argue?
It argues that the better name would be “Freedom Movement” because the goals of the Movement were broad and its impact, while not complete, significant.
Listen to the clip below:
Example 1- Point of View
What does this section of the webpage reveal about the author(s)’ point of view?
As stated in the section and in the name of the group, the perspective is from “those whose boots were on the ground.” In other words, Movement participants.
Listen to the clip below:
Now, look at President John Kennedy’s “Civil Rights Speech” (June 11, 1963) to see how a spoken argument uses claims, evidence, and reasoning, and to evaluate Kennedy’s point of view.
Start at 11:30 with, “My fellow Americans…” and go to 12:45 ending with, “..a better country than that.”
Consider the claim, the reasoning, and the evidence used.
Example 2 – Claims, Reasoning, and Evidence
What does Kennedy argue in the speech you just reviewed?
- Claim: That the United States, as a democratic country, must address the issue of civil rights at home.
- Reasoning: “This is a problem which faces us all…This is one country…Therefore, I’m asking for your help.”
- Evidence: Unemployment is 2-3 times greater for blacks than whites, lack of educational opportunities despite qualifications, segregated restaurants and movie theaters. This is nation founded on the ideals of equality but 10% of the population is not equal citizens.
Example 2 – Point of View
What does the “Civil Rights Speech” reveal about Kennedy’s point of view at that time?
Listen to the clip below:
Point of View – Differences between Texts and Speech
The two historical texts you just examined — from Veterans of the Civil Rights Movement and from President Kennedy- display very different points of view.
How these points of view were expressed differed not only in claims, evidence, and reasoning, but in the structure of the medium used.
A written text differs from a speech in part because speech is generally more personal and more informal.
Speeches often use less specific evidence, first person point of view, and more rhetorical devices. The medium does shape the message and its expression.
In this lesson you learned how to evaluate an author or historian’s point of view by assessing the point of view, reasoning and use of evidence in each of two documents: the Veterans of the Civil Rights Movement’s history page and President John F. Kennedy’s “Speech on Civil Rights.”
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