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A picture of slavery, for youth. Jonathan Walker.

[Detail] A picture of slavery, for youth. Jonathan Walker

Historical Comprehension: Case Study Method

The ability to use and understand legal documents as historical sources can be enhanced using the case study method employed in legal education. When approaching any case in the collection, consider the following questions:

  • What are the facts of the case?
  • What are the most important questions at issue in the case?
  • What arguments were made to clarify the issue?
  • What decision was reached in the case?
  • Did the case have an impact beyond its immediate participants? If so, what was it?
  • What additional information might be needed to understand the significance of this episode in U.S. history?

After using the questions to analyze a number of legal cases, reflect on the strengths and weaknesses of legal documents in providing historical insights. What topics can be understood by using legal documents? What topics are not well represented in legal documents?