Closer Readings Commentary

Back to School: History, Social Studies, and Philosophy Resources


History and Social Studies

The Argument of the Declaration of Independence Through a close reading of the document, students come to understand how its structure forms a coherent, lucid, and powerful argument for independence.

The Preamble to the Constitution: A Close Reading Students practice close reading and analysis of the words of the Preamble to understand how they reflect the ideas of the framers of the Constitution about the foundation and historical aims of government.

David Walker vs. John Day: Two Nineteenth-Century Free Black Men Students examine David Walker’s views in the Appeal and contrast them to the views of John Day. After reviewing background information and primary sources about the two polices, students will argue for or against the most beneficial policy for nineteenth-century African Americans.

Twelve Year a Slave: Analyzing Slave Narratives Students identify and analyze narrative passages that provide evidence for how slavery undermined and corrupted marriage and the family.

Twelve Years a Slave: Was the Case of Solomon Northup Exceptional? Students learn how to use evidence from a slave narrative and other sources to make inferences about the roles, relationships, and experiences that were part of the “lived experience” of slavery.

Francis Ellen Watkins Harper “Learning to Read” Students learn about African American literacy before and immediately after Emancipation through the poem “Learning to Read” by the African American writer Frances Ellen Watkins Harper (1825–1911).

Harriet Jacobs and Elizabeth Keckly: The Material and Emotional Realities of Childhood in Slavery In this lesson, students learn firsthand about the childhoods of Harriet Jacobs (1813–1897) and Elizabeth Keckly (18181–1907) by reading excerpts from their autobiographies.

Henry Box Brown’s Narrative: Creating Original Historical Fiction In this lesson, students read sections of Henry “Box” Brown’s narrative that illustrate the structural components of fugitive slave narratives. They also review actual runaway ads that slave owners published in newspapers in an effort to retrieve their “property”.

William Henry Singleton’s Resistance to Slavery: Overt and Covert In this lesson, students will explore how enslaved people like Singleton did not passively accept their condition but resisted it in numerous ways. They will learn about covert as well as overt resistance and will reflect upon the techniques people use to resist injustice today.

Man in the Middle: Thomas Day and the Free Black Experience This lesson uses Thomas Day as a focal point for students to learn about ways that free blacks attained their free status and “crafted freedom” for themselves and others through their craft and entrepreneurial skills, through political activities, through leveraging their social position and contacts, and through their art and creativity.

Chronicling America: Uncovering a World at War Students investigate the diversity of public opinion regarding the U.S. entry into World War I from the perspective of multiple newspapers.

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Montaigne “On Cruelty” A student LaunchPad designed to guide close reading of a classic essay by the father of the essay, in which he argues that cruelty is the greatest vice.

Camus' The Myth of Sisyphus A student LaunchPad designed to guide a close reading of Albert Camus' philosophical essay about the absurdity of human life.

Dostoevsky’s Notes from the Underground A Launchpad that guides the student through a close reading of Notes from the Underground. In this short novel Dostoevsky satirizes the hopes of the radical European Enlightenment. At the conclusion, students will have previewed many of the central themes of the philosophical movement that came to be known as existentialism: authenticity, doubt, death, meaning, the bureaucratization of society, and scientific determinism.

Dostoevsky’s The Grand Inquisitor This companion Launchpad is based on a celebrated chapter in The Brothers Karamazov. In it, students are guided through a close reading of the philosophical confrontation between the Grand Inquisitor of the Spanish Inquisition and Jesus. This cosmic confrontation raises profound questions about freedom and happiness.

Soren Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling A student Launchpad designed to guide a reading of Kierkegaard’s commentary of the Biblical story of Abraham and Isaac. Kierkegaard finds Abraham’s faith to be highly isolating, anxiety-ridden, and rationally absurd. Ultimately, Kierkegaard articulates an existential understanding of the self and of Christianity, presenting a path where the individual may transcend society and universal moral law.

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