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[Detail] The David Hilton family near Weissert, Nebraska. 1887.

Historical Issue Analysis and Decision Making: The Individual as Historical Decision-Maker

While many of the issues and decisions studied in history classes involve decisions made by national leaders (e.g., passage of the Homestead Act), understanding that individuals and families also faced issues and decisions is an important element of historical understanding. In fact, young history students often see the "everyday" people of the past as pawns in the flow of historical events. Reading the Oblinger letters, with their evidence of the strong influence of natural forces, might reinforce such a misconception. Thus, examining key decisions made by the family is a useful exercise.

In 1890, Uriah Oblinger applied for a military pension. As part of this process, he provided a list of all the places he had lived since leaving the military in 1864. Create a two-column chart that shows each of the moves represented in the list in one column and reasons for the move in the other column. Use the index of letters by date to identify family letters written around the date of each move (you may work with classmates to divide the work); read these letters for information on the reasons for each move. Compare Uriah's moves with Giles Thomas’s history. How can you track Giles’s moves in the same time period? How does what you learn illustrate the idea that individuals make decisions that shape their own and our collective history?