Choose one of the documents from the Colonial Lives collection. Read it keeping in mind that these are original pieces from the colonial era that have been transcribed by historians. Pay careful attention to details and the ways that the documents are structured. Having done this, write a 3-4 page response paper dealing with the document you have chosen. Among the possible themes or questions you might address:
Who is the author of the document? (I.e., is it a judge, missionary, preacher, nun, merchant, notary in a trial, etc). How does the authorship of the document affect its value for historians? Are there multiple authors?
Who was the intended audience of the original document? (I.e., priest, judge, Indian community, government official, etc.) Why does this matter? How might the document differ if it was intended for a different audience?
What was the purpose of the document? I.e., was it intended to challenge a court decision, instruct priests in certain practices, seek justice, etc.? How does the purpose of the document affect its value and authenticity?
How many times have the “voices” of the historical actors been “filtered” and how does that affect how we understand the events? In other words, if this, for example, is a court case, how many times did the actual words of the people who testified go through other media such as notaries, linguistic translators, and judges, before they were actually written down? What do the questions asked by judges reveal to us about not only social practice but the collective mentality of the law?
Does the document reveal more about actual events and social reality or more about the ways that certain kinds of people understood social/cultural or religious/ideological values? Explain.
If the document does not explain social “reality” then how might historians use it? Does it reveal some other subjective phenomenon like religious belief, political ideology, racial stereotypes, etc.? Explain.
If the document does explain social reality, what can we learn from the document? What does it teach us about objective “truth” in the context of the colonial past?
How do issues like ethnicity, class, social status and/or gender affect the ways that the document was written? How are such issues revealed in the document?
What broad themes of colonial Latin American can you discern from this document? How does the document highlight issues discussed in class? How did this document change your view of colonial society, if at all?
Do you find reading documents from the actual period of study useful? Explain.
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