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HIST 301: The Historian’s Craft: Reading, Research and Writing History

This is a course guide for students enrolled in History 301 at California State University Northridge.

Example of How to Approach Primary Source Discovery

Identifying An Initial Topic Idea

Slaves During the 18th century /American Revolution

How Could You Narrow the Topic?

Asking questions: Think about gender, location, roles, evidence or documents that may have been left behind.

An Example of What Happened to One Historian (What Every Historian Dreams of Happening in an Archive)

Historian: Erica Armstrong Dunbar

Initial Search Focus:
19th Century black women in Philadelphia

Final Focus: Ona Judge George Washington's Runaway Slave

Source that led her to change her focus and question: 
An advertisement about a runaway slave in the Philadelphia Gazette names "Oney Judge"
who had escaped from the President's house (George Washington)

Link to Videos to Learn More About This Historian's Research (Interview with  Professor Dunbar w the Mellon Foundation) (The Story of Ona Judge)



Additional Primary Sources to Learn More About This Subject

Pennsylvania: A Gradual Abolition Act of 1780

This law, the Gradual Abolition Act of 1780, was the first extensive abolition legislation in the western hemisphere. It passed the Pennsylvania General Assembly on March 1, 1780. To appease slave owners, the act slowly emancipated enslaved people without making slavery immediately illegal. The act permitted Pennsylvania slaveholders to keep the enslaved individuals they already owned unless they failed to register them annually. At the same time, the act provided for the eventual freedom of individuals who were newly born into slavery.

Learn More About the Act at:

Washington, George. Letter to Oliver Wolcott, Jr. 1. Sept. 1796. Connecticut Historical Society, Oliver Wolcott. Jr Papers.

Secretary of the Treasury, George Washington asks for help in retrieving his runaway slave - Ona Judge. This letter provides an example of George Washington discussing Ona Judge

Washington, George. “Letter to John Moss from George Washington", 30 May 1788,” Founders Online, National Archives.

This letter provides the reader with evidence of how George Washington listed his slaves as property. It goes into great detail to show how he denoted their age and status.