a black and white image of a painting of George Washington

Where English and history meet: A collaboration guide

By Karen Cobb Carroll, Ph.D., NBCT

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Learning outcomes

At the close of this lesson, students will:

  • analyze two primary documents to detect tone, purpose, and author biases
  • identify cultural contexts of a primary document

Teacher planning

Time required for lesson

60 minutes

Materials/Resources

Teacher should access a copy of the F.Douglass letter to H. Auld and the George Washington letter to John Mercer from the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. Print copies of the letters for students.

Technology resources

Teacher needs access to the internet and a printer.

Pre-activities

Teacher should discuss bias, a preference that can inhibit impartial judgment, and how it appears in documents. Students can share examples of bias in their own lives, both in themselves and others.

Activities

  1. Teacher distributes copy of the Douglass letter. If teacher prefers and computers are available, students can access an online copy from the address above.
  2. Students should read the letter and answer the following questions:
    • To whom is the letter addressed? (Mr. Auld) What is his relationship to Douglass? (He was Douglass’ former master.)
    • What is Douglass asking Mr. Auld to provide? (the date when he came to live there)
    • Why might Douglass not know when he came to live with the Auld family? (At the time, as a slave he might not have been able to read or compute dates.)
    • Why did he run away? (He did not know how soon he might be sold.)
    • What bias might Douglass have as he writes this letter? (anti-slavery) Where in the text does Douglass show his bias? (At the point that he writes, “I love you, but hate slavery; But I hate to talk about that.”)
    • What bias might Mr. Auld have as he receives this letter? (pro-slavery)
  3. Class discussion of evidence of bias in this letter should follow.
  4. Teacher distributes a copy of the Washington letter. If the teacher prefers and computers are available, students can access an online copy from the address above.
  5. Students should read the Washington letter and answer the following questions.
    • What is Washington’s attitude about slavery? (He does not want to buy another slave, and wants slavery to be slowly removed from the United States.)
    • Is Washington saying that he will never purchase another slave? (No) What does this say about his bias toward slavery? (He may not like slavery or may know that it is wrong, but for what could be a variety of reasons, he still owns slaves.)
    • Compare Douglass’ and Washington’s attitudes and biases about slavery. How can we discern these attitudes from these documents? (See documents. Responses may vary.)
    • Would these attitudes be present in society today? Why/why not?
  6. Classroom discussion should compare the biases in the two letters. What may have contributed to the biases? Would they have been considered biased at the time they were written? Why/why not? Why do we consider them biased today?

Assessment

Student will compose a letter that might have been sent from George Washington to Frederick Douglass on the subject of slavery, and a response by Douglass to Washington. The letters should reflect the tone, biases, and views of the two men. Rubric: Letters should reflect the tone of the time period, and attitudes of the two authors, and should address the subject of slavery.

North Carolina curriculum alignment

English Language Arts (2004)

Grade 9

  • Goal 2: The learner will explain meaning, describe processes, and answer research questions to inform an audience.
    • Objective 2.01: Demonstrate the ability to read, listen to and view a variety of increasingly complex print and non-print informational texts appropriate to grade level and course literary focus, by:
      • selecting, monitoring, and modifying as necessary reading strategies appropriate to readers' purpose.
      • identifying and analyzing text components (such as organizational structures, story elements, organizational features) and evaluating their impact on the text.
      • providing textual evidence to support understanding of and reader's response to text.
      • demonstrating comprehension of main idea and supporting details.
      • summarizing key events and/or points from text.
      • making inferences, predicting, and drawing conclusions based on text.
      • identifying and analyzing personal, social, historical or cultural influences, contexts, or biases.
      • making connections between works, self and related topics.
      • analyzing and evaluating the effects of author's craft and style.
      • analyzing and evaluating the connections or relationships between and among ideas, concepts, characters and/or experiences.
      • identifying and analyzing elements of informational environment found in text in light of purpose, audience, and context.

Social Studies (2003)

Grade 9

  • Goal 1: Historical Tools and Practices - The learner will identify, evaluate, and use the methods and tools valued by historians, compare the views of historians, and trace the themes of history.
    • Objective 1.02: Analyze and interpret primary and secondary sources to compare views, trace themes, and detect bias.
  • Goal 6: Patterns of Social Order - The learner will investigate social and economic organization in various societies throughout time in order to understand the shifts in power and status that have occurred.
    • Objective 6.01: Compare the conditions, racial composition, and status of social classes, castes, and slaves in world societies and analyze changes in those elements.

  • Common Core State Standards
    • English Language Arts (2010)
      • History/Social Studies

        • Grades 11-12
          • 11-12.LH.1 Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, connecting insights gained from specific details to an understanding of the text as a whole.
        • Grades 9-10
          • 9-10.LH.1 Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, attending to such features as the date and origin of the information.

  • North Carolina Essential Standards
    • Social Studies (2010)
      • United States History I

        • USH.H.1 Apply the four interconnected dimensions of historical thinking to the United States History Essential Standards in order to understand the creation and development of the United States over time. USH.H.1.1 Use Chronological thinking to: Identify the...
      • United States History II

        • USH.H.1 Apply the four interconnected dimensions of historical thinking to the United States History Essential Standards in order to understand the creation and development of the United States over time. USH.H.1.1 Use Chronological thinking to: Identify the...