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Primary Sources - Workshop in American History Workshop 4 - Concerning Emancipation: Who Freed the Slaves?homesitemap
Introduction -Link Before You Watch - link Lectures and Activities Classroom and Applications - Link

Workshop 4:  Lectures & Activities

Lecture Transcript Three:
Final Thoughts on Emancipation

Page 12


Asking new questions means searching for new evidence, and that, too, has been one of the really significant changes. A lot of these documents that you've had a chance to read have only come to light in the last 15 or 20 years. There was a whole documentary project in the National Archives. Historians combed through looking for precisely these kinds of texts to provide a documentary history of emancipation. Now, all of this is circular. If you don't ask the question in the first place—"Well, wait a minute. What else was going on besides Lincoln and Congress?"—then perhaps you don't go looking for these documents. But asking the question leads one on this search. And the search turned up gems, many of which you've read and many of which have transformed our understanding of the complexities of this whole issue of emancipation.

Changing our view of the past comes out of a variety of different factors. It comes out of who we are. It comes out of the times in which we live. That's not to say that we're making things up about the past. That's not to say that the past is just a fiction. But it is to say that where we look and what we look for very much depends on where we are located at this time. And our students understand that. And our students respond to that—the search for evidence, seeing the past in a different light. The past doesn't change, but our understanding of the past does. And over the past couple of decades, few subjects have undergone a more dramatic transformation in the way we think than the subject of emancipation.

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