Discussion Questions on Reading Primary Sources
Primary sources are the raw materials from which histories are made. According to William Kelleher Storey (Writing History, 18): "Primary sources originate in the time period that historians are studying. They vary a great deal. They may include personal memoirs, government documents, transcripts of legal proceedings, oral histories and traditions, archaeological and biological evidence, and visual sources like paintings and photographs." Other types of primary sources are contemporary books, diaries, letters, works of literature, and music. The list is almost endless.
Primary sources also afford a rare opportunity for the historian to come into direct contact with the past. By giving the historian this "access," the primary source helps him/her to experience the past imaginatively, an essential step toward the recreation of it using the content of the primary source. Nonetheless, reading and evaluating primary sources is a difficult task.
The primary sources in the attached list deal with the history of Nazi Germany. Your assignment is to analyze one of them in detail and set it in the context of the history of Nazi Germany (use the introduction to the document, the Spielvogel text, and other secondary sources to establish context). Answer the following questions in writing. Your answers are due on 15 April 2008.
1. What kind of source is it?
2. What is the date of the document? Where and under what circumstances did it originate? Of what importance is this information? (Historical Context)
3. Who is the author/speaker in the document? What do we or what should we know about each of these persons? Are these authors/speakers reliable? What is the audience for the document? Of what importance is this knowledge for an analysis of the document?
4. What is the content of each document? Summarize the content in your own words. Is the content biased? How should the historians compensate for such bias? How might the historian as a reader of the documents be biased?
5. Is the content of the document reasonable or probable?
6. Does the document corroborate what you already know about Nazi Germany? In what way? Does it contradict what you already know? In what way?
7. What additional or specialized information is needed to read and understand the document? Be specific and make a list. Where might such information be found?
Documents for Analysis
Select the document for your analysis from the following list. All of these documents may be found in Stackelberg and Winkle, The Nazi Germany Sourcebook. Note: many of these selections are excerpts; you may wish to find the text of the entire document.
Document 2.6 The Nazi Party Program, 1920.
Document 2.19 Hitler’s Speech to the Industry Club.
Document 2.23 Excerpts from Goebbels’ Diary.
Document 3.1 Proclamation of the Reich Government, 1 February 1933.
Document 3.6 Goering, Reconstruction of a Nation.
Document 3.11 Lina Haag, A Handful of Dust (about a Concentration Camp).
Documents 3.16 and 3.17 The Reich Chamber of Fine Arts and the Editorial Law of 4 October 1933.
Document 3.24 The Nuremberg Party Rally (1934), Shirer, Berlin Diary.
Documents 3.25a & b Women in the Third Reich.
Documents 3.26a, b, c, & d The Nuremberg Laws.
Document 4.8 Himmler on the Concentration Camps.
Document 4.10 The Hossbach Memorandum (1937).
Documents 4.13a, b, c, & d Kristallnacht, 1938.
Document 4.15 Hitler’s Reichstag Speech (against the Jews), 1939.
Document 4.16 Conference Minutes (on war with Poland), 1939.
Documents 4.20a & b and 5.1 Hitler’s Speeches on the War, 1939.
Document 5.4 The Fall of France (from Shirer, Berlin Diary).
Document 5.20 The Goebbels Diaries, 1941.
Document 5.23 Goebbels’ Sportpalast Speech, 1943.
Documents 5.24a, b, & c The White Rose Leaflets, 1943.
Document 5.28 Marion Gräfin Dönhoff, Names that Nobody Knows Anymore (Flight from E. Prussia).
Document 5.29 Hitler’s Political Testament, 1945.
Document 5.31 Erika S., Diary, Hamburg, 1944-1945.
Document 6.8 The Wannsee Conference, 1942.
Document 6.9 Eyewitness Account of Gassings at Belzec and Treblinka.
Document 6.10 Eyewitness Account of the Shooting of Jews.
Document 6.13 The Destruction of the Warsaw Ghetto, 1943.
Document 6.15 Testimony of Rudolf Höss, Commandant of Auschwitz.
Document 7.1 Germany under Military Government, 1945.
Document 7.10 Michael Stürmer, “History in a Land without History”.
Document 7.11 Ernst Nolte, “The Past that will not Pass . . . .”
Document 7.12 Jürgen Habermas, “A Kind of Damage Control . . . .”
Document 7.13 Hans Mommsen, Reappraisal and Repression . . . .”
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Last Update: 20.III.2008
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