Historical Hack: Historical Empathy and Emotional Distance

What you’ll learn to do: maintain an appropriate emotional response to historical sources and narratives while exhibiting empathy for historical figures

Treasons poster asking Christians to pray for John Brown.

Figure 1. A broadside (a poster/flyer) distributed by J. Somersworth, asking others to pray for abolitionist John Brown. Many considered Brown a martyr and a hero, while others viewed him as disgraceful.

In this hack, you will learn to check in with your own feelings toward historical sources that are fraught with values and viewpoints that we might find commendable, repulsive, or somewhere in between. You will read a series of primary sources in a way that acknowledges your own emotional reaction while using historical context to have empathy for past persons—even ones we may find unsympathetic.