Gobbets

Gobbets

 

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These will give you a chance to work intensively with primary documents and to demonstrate your abilities evaluating them as historical evidence. A ‘Gobbet’ is literally a ‘mouth-full’ but as used in exercises on history degrees it is a short extract from a larger document, on which you are invited to comment.

 

There are three aspects to dealing with ‘gobbets’. Many of these issues and, indeed, much of the general approach is relevant for all primary sources.

 

First, you should place the ‘gobbet’ in its intellectual, social and political context. Possible issues to discuss are:

 

  • When was it written, by whom and in what specific context?
  • What did it mean for the protagonists?
  • What type of document is it?
  • Is it intended for public or private use?
  • Why was it written?
  • Is there a particular purpose or agenda?
  • Who is the intended audience?
  • Who are the people and/or organisations mentioned?
  • What events and/or intellectual stance are they engaging with?
  • Are there any historiographical controversies which surround the issue?

 

 

Second, address the actual contents of the extract themselves. Possible issues to discuss are:

 

  • What are the main ideas or themes or policies?
  • What specific terms and/or arguments does it put forward?
  • What are the key words and phrases and why are they so important?
  • Is there anything unusual in the style or language or content?
  • Or perhaps something that is representative of a point of view?
  • How internally consistent is the argument?
  • What lies behind the words?
  • Are there certain ‘silences’ which are significant?
  • Does it contribute to the historiographical debates surrounding the subject?

 

Finally, your previous discussion should lead you to evaluating the extract as a historical document.

 

  • How significant is the document?
  • Is it a well known source?
  • Did it have any consequences or is it simply a reflection of a passing view?
  • How valuable is it as historical evidence?
  • Are there any problems/weaknesses with it as a source?
  • How does it compare with other sources of which you are aware?
  • How does it affect the prevailing historiography on the subject, if at all?

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