Historical Hack: Understanding Rhetoric

What you’ll learn to do: understand how rhetoric is used in interpreting and analyzing related primary documents

A historian’s work is often similar to that of an archaeologist. Both scholars dig up artifacts, perhaps from beneath layers of sediment, and then interpret the meanings of those objects. Part of this process involves placing these pieces of evidence into a coherent historical narrative. An effectively utilized artifact sheds new light on a lingering question, or helps us get a more complete understanding of the past. In this section, we’ll analyze two primary documents that attempt to make a persuasive argument about a contentious idea, that of indigenous civilization, and thus support or oppose the policy of Indian Removal.

In this exercise, we will be reading two speeches and examining the use of rhetoric, or the effort to convince a particular audience to adopt a point of view and act on specific recommendations. Read on and we’ll work through some of the finer points of our two antagonists’ arguments, examining their reasoning and considering what’s at stake in accepting or rejecting these perspectives.