CRITICAL QUESTIONS EXERCISE

Assignment: Write a short history of the development of the atomic bomb, using the primary source documents included in Stoff et al., eds., The Manhattan Project.

Primary Sources: Historians learn about history from primary source documents (i.e., eyewitness accounts of historical events). This critical questions exercise is designed to give you practice working with primary source documents while helping you learn more about one of the most important developments of the twentieth century: the development of the atomic bomb.

For this exercise, you will be examining a variety of primary sources, including: formerly top secret government documents, letters, excerpts from diaries, newspapers, public documents, maps, and other documents.

As you use these sources, critically evaluate their strengths and weaknesses as sources. You might think of yourself as an attorney cross-examining a witness (in this situation, the witness is the author of the document). How reliable is the witness? Did the witness actually see the events he is describing or is he just passing along information someone else told him? Does the witness have a bias or personal outlook which might color his understanding of an event? Or, does the witness have a stake in the case which might cause him consciously to slant his testimony? Did the events happen so long ago that the witness' memory may be faulty? Or, are the events so recent that the testimony is colored by the emotions of the moment? If the witness offers physical evidence such as a picture, is it an accurate representation of reality or might it have been staged. Keep in mind that testimony about one aspect of the event may be weaker or stronger than other parts of the testimony. In writing your essay, give greater weight to the reliable testimony (though even a generally unreliable witness may have a thing or two of importance to say)..

Secondary Sources: Historians also learn about history from secondary sources (documents written by other historians based on primary sources). You will want to read the introductory material in Stoff et al., The Manhattan Project (xii-17, 60-63, 88-91, 134-137, 178-181, 218-221, 250-253) and Tindall and Shi, America: A Narrative History, chap. 30, for background on the development of the atomic bomb. However, the point of this exercise is to learn how to use primary sources. I am, therefore, placing some restrictions on your use of secondary sources. You must draw your paper only from the primary source documents from The Manhattan Project book.

Thesis Statement: Organize your paper around a thesis statement, an argumentative statement you are trying to prove with evidence from primary sources. Somewhere near the beginning of your paper (the first paragraph is usually a good spot), your paper should include a statement which says something like this: "This paper argues that. . . ." Your job in the paper is to present evidence and argument which will prove that your thesis is correct.

Narrowing and Focusing the Topic: Remember, a good history of an event will answer these questions: (1) What happened in the event, when did it happen, and who was involved in the event? (2) What caused the event to happen? (3) What were the consequences of the event?

Many different things can make up the subject of historical writing: histories of institutions or bureaucracies (such as the Manhattan Project or the federal government), diplomacy (such as the relationships among the Allied Powers), the history of science (advances in knowledge regarding nuclear energy), military history (the ending of World War II), and administrative history (how good was the decision-making process which led to the development and use of the bomb?). You may be able to think of other events associated with the development of the atomic bomb.

In writing your paper, you may focus on one of these topics or survey the whole subject of the development of the atomic bomb, as long as you can organize your paper around a thesis statement you are trying to prove with evidence.

Footnotes: Use traditional footnotes (not parenthetical references). Your footnotes may be located either at the bottom of the page or at the end of the paper. If you use a word processor such as Microsoft Word or WordPerfect, putting footnotes at the bottom of the page is very easy. Use the pull-down menus on the menu bar to look for the word: "footnote." Click on that word and your software should guide you through the process with relative ease. (In Microsoft products such as MS Word and MS Works, you can usually find footnotes by clicking on "Insert" on the menu bar and then "Footnote."

For this paper, use a modified version of traditional notes, citing sources by the title of each document (listed on the header of each page) and the page number from the book. For instance, if your first two notes were citations to the fifty-first and the eighteenth page of the handouts, your first two notes would look like this:

1"Truman's Letter to Stimson, March 10, 1944," 51.

2"Einstein's Letter to Roosevelt, August 2, 1939," 18.

If you put your footnotes at the bottom of the page, be sure to separate them from the main text with a line (hit the underline key 20 times).

Length of the Paper: Your paper should be ten or fewer pages long (not including footnotes).

Due Date: Your paper is due March 10.


HIS 223: Introduction to American History, 1492-1877

HIS 223: Introduction to American History, 1877-Present

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Dr. Harold D. Tallant, Department of History, Georgetown College
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