An editorial cartoon is one kind of primary document that can reveal the social, political and intellectual climate of a past pe

An editorial cartoon is one kind of primary document that can reveal the social, political and intellectual climate of a past period. Cartoonist Arthur Racey portrays Mackenzie King as a political opportunist with policies “made to suit all tastes.” Library and Archives Canada, Acc. No 1971-65-31

Primary Source Evidence

The litter of history —letters, documents, records, diaries, drawings, newspaper accounts and other bits and pieces left behind by those who have passed on — are treasures to the historian. These are primary sources that can give up the secrets of life in the past. Historians learn to read these sources.

But reading a source for evidence demands a different approach than reading a source for information. The contrast may be seen in an extreme way in the difference between reading a phone book — for information — and examining a boot-print in the snow outside a murder scene —for evidence. When we look up a phone number, we don’t ask ourselves, “who wrote this phonebook?” or “what impact did it have on its readers?” We read it at face value. The boot print, on the other hand, is a trace of the past that does not allow a comparable reading. Once we establish what it is, we examine it to see if it offers clues about the person who was wearing the boot, when the print was made, which direction the person was headed, and what else was going on at that time.

A history textbook is generally used more like a phone book: it is a place to look up information. Primary sources must be read differently. To use them well, we set them in their historical contexts and make inferences from them to help us understand more about what was going on when they were created.

What is a Benchmark?

<p>John W. Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising &amp; Marketing History,<br />Duke University Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections</p>

A surveyor cut a "benchmark" into a stone or a wall when measuring the altitude and/or level of a tract of land. A bracket called a "bench" was secured in the cut to mount the surveying equipment, and all subsequent measurements were made in reference to the position and height of that mark.

The term "benchmark" was first used around 1842 to refer to a standard of quality by which achievement may be measured.

The foundation documents available through the Benchmarks site attempt to help teachers establish standards for assessing student learning of the modes of thought that constitute historical thinking.

John W. Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising & Marketing History,
Duke University Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections