While it’s true that DBQ (Document-Based Question) essays appear on the NY State Regents and AP History Exams, teachers—esp. history teachers—of EVERY grade should see them as a tremendous tool for teaching both content and critical thinking skills.
The "DBQ Approach" is as follows: Give students multiple documents (including various sources such as letters, paintings, political cartoons, articles, and texts of speeches, among others) to interpret and use in response to a question. Students must then build an ARGUMENT using the documents as EVIDENCE. Sound familiar?
Indeed, DBQ essays require many of the skills involved in writing a research paper: close reading and analysis, inference, summarizing, and synthesizing ideas. But in this case, the teacher provides the research and the driving question. So DBQ essays are like research papers with training wheels, or "add-water-and-stir" research papers. And teachers of ANY grade can take the DBQ approach. Because you control the question and the documents, you determine the difficulty of the assignment. And as always, it’s good practice to model what you’re looking for before you ask students to tackle it independently.
Here are a few sample questions from “DBQs Main Page,” an AP History Website that offers more than 70 student- and teacher-created DBQs, along with general Websites for DBQ research:
“World War II was more important than the Great Depression in fundamentally transforming American society. Assess the validity of this statement based on your knowledge of American society between 1930 and 1945 and the documents below.” (by Mr. Steven Mercado, Chaffey H. S., CA) (Found at: http://www.historyteacher.net/2001DBQsMainPage.htm)
“One of the ironies of World War I was that in a war 'to make the world safe for democracy,' the government attacked the civil liberties that make democracy possible. Assess the validity of this statement.” (Found at: http://www.historyteacher.net/2000DBQsMainPage.htm)
Here are a few more resources to check out:
This blog by Jack Milgram lists 75 useful Websites: https://custom-writing.org/blog/history-websites
- Smithsonian Learning Lab: "Discover more than a million resources, create personal collections and educational experiences, and share your work."
- Sample 8th grade Social Studies DBQ Test from NY Regents (2007).
- NY Regents DBQs for 8th grade Social Studies OVERVIEW PAGE.
- The Upstate History Alliance gives overview information on DBQs and links to other useful sites.
- This Regents Prep Website provides a model for how to respond to DBQ questions.
- DocsTeach provides more than 3,000 primary sources selected from the National Archives, plus activities! (Thanks to Brent Maddin of Relay College of Education for this lead!)
- http://avalon.law.yale.edu/ - straightforward and comprehensive, it holds transcripts of every major document pertaining to American history from early English documents to the present day. (Thanks to Bob Donnelly of University Academy CHS for this link and the one that follows!)
- http://www.digitalhistory.uh.edu/ - constantly updated, lots of lesson ideas, news clips, sound bites, original docs, a complete curriculum of US History. Bob Donnelly notes: "One of my favorites is the entrance exam to get into Jersey City's public high school from the late 19th century."
- Fordham University's Internet Modern History Sourcebook contains thousands of sources.
- http://www.historyteacher.net/ contains links to many other helpful history-related sites. (Thanks to Kaity Korda of Academy Charter HS for this lead!)
- http://smarthistory.khanacademy.org/: a multimedia web-book about art and art history.
- Documents in World History offers hundreds of pages of documents to support the teaching of world history. (Thanks to Michael Mackenna of Great Oaks CS for this lead!)
- http://teachersites.schoolworld.com/webpages/TBurke1/files/R3%20Primary%20Source%20Handbook.pdf provides an array of primary source documents, esp. for world history teachers (Thanks again to Michael Mackenna!)
- This MiddleWeb post by Frank Baker shares info about how to teach students to analyze propaganda, and MindOverMedia is a great resource!
- US History Curriculum from New Visions for Public Schools has a ton of great resources. (Thanks to Daquan Mickens at Great Oaks Legacy Charter School for this lead!)
- Global History Curriculum from New Visions for Public Schools, ditto!
Here are some additional helpful research-oriented Websites, which in turn contain links to other useful sites (Many thanks to Mitch Brenner at KIPP-Infinity for these leads!):
The keys to success on DBQ essays are the same keys as on any other essay: you have to 1) build an ARGUMENT and 2) support it with EVIDENCE. And of course, in order to do that, you have to COMPREHEND the texts that you’ve read. Check out Writing 101 for more on fundamentals of writing instruction, Comprehension 101 for more on how we comprehend, and Research Paper Guide if you want to move in that direction.
For support on how to teach students to build "quote sandwiches" (context, evidence, and explanation), check out these TLC Blog posts on quote sandwiches.
***RELATED WORK: If you're interested in MOCK TRIALS, here's a link to a Mini-Mock Trial Manual. (Thanks to George Mankbadi at Paul Robeson CSH for this link!)
Our Essay Answer
The Second Great Awakening challenged the traditional ways of society in America between 1785 and 1825. During the 18th century, the strict ideas of such religions as Puritanism and Calvinism taught the beliefs of original sin and predestination. People believed that a person was either saved or condemned by God from their birth, a fate that could not be changed. There was no separation of church and state and religion was centered around authority and order. It was the Second Great Awakening that changed all this.
In the late 18th and early 19th century, there were signs of a new way of thinking based on a wave of religious revivals that began to sweep through the United States. They were partly a reaction against the rationalism that had dominated the country during the Enlightenment and the American Revolution. The idea of predestination was replaced with individualism and hope. These new ideas appealed to the people because they now believed that they had a chance to redeem themselves on earth and were able to go to heaven. Unlike the early Calvinists, the new breed of people allowed free will to play a role in their salvation. Order and authority no longer played a major role in religion. Ministers, such as Peter Cartwright, preached that "the people were a free people and lived in a free country, and must be allowed to do as they pleased."(B) After hearing this, many people left their Presbyterian minister to join Peter Cartwright's Methodist congregation. Religions such as Mormonism and Revivalism gave a feeling of patriotism to North America. Brigham Young preached of the intent "to build up Zion (a promised land) and purify and cleanse it from all pollutions."(C) This led Americans to see themselves as the society to create an utopia that could redeem the whole world from evil. In 1923, a Presbyterian minister by the name of Charles G. Finney, started a radical form of revivalism in upstate New York. Instead of basing his sermons on rationalism, he appealed to the people's emotions and fear of damnation and persuaded thousands of people to publicly declare their revived faith. He preached all could be saved through faith and hard work, which appealed to the rising middle class. The Baptists and Mormonists also made their appearance by converting many of the unchurched into respectable members of the community. These two religions became the largest Protestant denominations in the country. Much of the religious enthusiasm of this time was based on the belief of the Second Coming of Christ and the end of the world. This was later continued by a new religion, the Millerites. Activist religious groups provided both the leadership and the well-organized voluntary societies that drove the reform of this time.
Although this awakening had begun in New York, it spread to places like Kentucky, where the most non-religious person was converted. Reverend G. Baxter saw the transformation and said "that the character of Kentucky travelers was entirely changed and that they were now, as distinguished for sobriety as they have formally been for dissoluteness: and indeed I found Kentucky the most moral place I had ever been in."(F) Although this religious revival moralized the people, it was not quite perfect. Reverend Dr. Finley saw many "irregularities...but if only the tenth person convicted is truly converted, 'tis a great work." The son of Reverend James Finley saw "the number of people computed from 10 to 21,000"(D) and how religion appealed to all people "of all ages, from 8 to 60 years."(D) Many people found the ideas of the Second Great Awakening appealing, so there was a multitude of different and diverse people who joined it, not only because of the new ideas, but because of the change it brought to the role of people in society. It was now not only the wealthy who could be ministers. The idea of hope appealed to people like farmers and the poor. The most drastic change happened to the role of women and African Americans. It was the women who first dominated the the early camp meetings because they were allowed to speak freely.(H) This changed their traditional roles from being subordinate in religion to them being continually active during meetings.(I) In fact, it was women who first converted their elite businessmen husbands to being active in the new religion. African Americans also benefited from the Second Great Awakening. They too became active in religion, not only by being included in desegregated camp meetings, but also by becoming preachers themselves.(G)
The Second Great Awakening, therefore, did challenge the traditional ways of society in America. Not only did the ideas of this time change, but also the roles that people played in society. This awakening caused new divisions in society between the newer, evangelical sects and the older Protestant churches.This not only changed roles and ideas in society, it also helped along reform movements and a new way of writing called Transcendentalism.
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