Saturday, March 30, 2013

A Closer Look at Point-of-View: Part 1

The biggest frustration for most students of AP European History has to be essay writing. Many students come to the course unprepared for the very organized kind of essay writing that they are expected to master by the time of the exam in May. They are so used to writing about a topic, and not necessarily methodically answering a question. When you throw the requirement that students read and interpret documents as evidence in answering a question the expectation is that some students' heads might explode under the strain. Then we ask them to actually account for the point-of-view (PoV) presented in some of the documents! This is something that our modern society does not do very well. If it's in writing, or in a picture, then it must be true, right? While the information presented in any document might not necessarily be false, it can be presented in such a way that it is intended to illustrate a particular thesis, or to fit the agenda of the speaker. Therefore, we must be careful when presenting the information contained in the document as absolute fact. This is really what we mean when we ask you to "analyze point-of-view" in a document-based essay.

There are several ways to analyze point-of-view in a DBQ. I will point a couple of these out and give you some examples of acceptable and unacceptable point-of-view analysis. Let's take a look at Document 6 from the 2003 DBQ (Burgfrieden):

Prompt: Describe and analyze changing views toward the concept of a "civil peace" (Burgfrieden) in Germany from 1914 to 1918.

Source: Oskar Schmitz, author, member of the Pan-German League, pamphlet, "The Real Germany," 1915

"Our strength today is our unity, that is, the best individuals in all our classes support the war and are determined to see it through to the end. Other 'opinions' are not allowed. That in England there still exists freedom of thought concerning the war is England's weakness."

This document offers several opportunities for analyzing the author's point-of-view. In fact, this is exactly why the folks at The College Board included it as part of this DBQ. Remember, there are NO trick documents. They are hoping that YOU will recognize the opportunites present for analyzing PoV!

The simplest way to analyze PoV in this particular document is to relate his opinion (authorial PoV) to his place in society. In this case, the author of this document is a member of the Pan-German League, an ultra-nationalist group that saw German national identity as a unifying force in the German Empire, and even advocated the expulsion of Poles from the Polish areas in the eastern half of the empire. It is clear that Schmitz is of the opinion that the "civil peace," which called for Germans to put aside their conflicts with one another during the war, only serves to strengthen Germany against her enemies, particularly against England. To what degree has this opinion been shaped by his position as a member of the Pan-German League? That is what you must account for in analyzing point-of-view.

Example of Acceptable PoV Analysis:

"The Pan-German League was an extremist and ultra-nationalist organization that saw German culture as the greatest unifying force in Germany, and it is not surprising that Schmitz, as a member of this group, would equate unity in support of the war with strength."

So, why is this an acceptable analysis of PoV? First, it identifies and explains a source of bias in the document. It identifies the Pan-German League as an ultra-nationalist group, and explains what that really means. Second, it connects the bias to the author of the document and to the opinion he expresses. Can we take Schmitz's opinion about German unity as the opinion of most Germans in 1915? No, we cannot. The fact that he is an ultra-nationalist has affected the point-of-view expressed in his pamphlet.

Example of Unacceptable PoV Analysis:

"This is the point of view of the Pan-German League who want to unify all Germans."

Many students only go part of the way when attempting to analyze PoV in this way. They may identify a source of bias in the document correctly, but they fall short of connecting it to the author or the opinion expressed. Notice the effect of this omission on the example of unacceptable PoV analysis. The goal of the Pan-German League is roughly identified but there really is no explaination of how this affects the opinion expressed, and there is no explanation of how this might represent a bias.

Another way to approach PoV is to evaluate the reliability of the source. This doesn't mean that you must always find a source to be of questionable reliability. You might find some authors to be more qualified to speak on a subject than others. These sources might be more reliable than the others. Let's take a look at this using Document 6 from the 2006 DBQ (Alsace-Lorraine).

Prompt: Analyze the ways in which national and cultural identity in Alsace-Lorraine were perceived and promoted during the period from 1870-1919.

At first glance, this table of statistics seems to support the claim that an overwhelming majority of communities in Alsace and Lorraine speak German. This would definitely justify the annexation of these territories to the German Empire in 1871. That is, in fact, exactly the purpose for which they were intended. A closer look at the source tell us that these statistics were compled for a report by the German government. These statistics were most likely tailored to suit their purposes. It is hoped by the authors of this DBQ that you will recognize and acknowledge this possible source of bias.

Example of Acceptable PoV Analysis:

"But the fact that these statistics were publish in a German government report in which they were likely used to justify German claims to Alsace and Lorraine cast some degree of doubt over their validity."

Notice that this analysis of PoV does a very good job of explaining the possible bias of this document and its source. It directly ties this bias to the statistics presented in the document (the point-of-view of the document).

Example of Unacceptable PoV Analysis:

"These statistics, presented in a German government report, show that there were more German-speaking commuities than French-speaking communities in Alsace-Lorraine."

So, what makes this analysis unacceptable? It's not really analysis. It simply states that the statistics came from a German government report, and then states the point-of-view of the document. There is no attempt to state why it is important to the interpretation of the document that the documents came from the German government.

That's all for now. We will continue this discussion of PoV analysis in my next post.