The View from the Bottom Rail

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The View from the Bottom Rail

The Lewinsky Scandal… A perfect example as to why we cannot accept everything at face value before carefully examining it first. Everyone thought President Clinton was behaving himself in the White House, but, as it turns out, he was most definitely not. This can be the same for history. We must carefully consider different aspects of articles so that we do no make the mistake of believing everything we read. In order to fully understand an article, we must understand the author that wrote it. It is necessary to examine prejudices, sources, information left out, and missing background information before accepting an article. This method of critical analysis allows us to better understand the article and therefore history because we are more aware of the authors and their possible mishaps. “The View from the Bottom Rail”, an article in After the Fact, provides an opportunity to examine different aspects of analysis. If we look at it carefully, then we will be able to determine if the thesis was proven effectively.

In “The View from the Bottom Rail”, the authors, James Davidson and Mark Lytle, proposed, “For several reasons, that debased position has made it unusually difficult for historians to recover the freedman’s point of view.” Within the article, Davidson and Lytle cycled through different aspects as to why it is hard for historians to determine the “view from the bottom rail”. They questioned the validity of many sources that, if accurate, would have contained the perspective of an ex-slave. These sources included both white and black testimony.

In order to examine these sources, the authors traced the topics using microcosm. Because they were covering a topic and not an event, microcosm was the most appropriate method of examining the subject. Davidson and Lytle first introduced a source. Then, they pondered over the different ways that the source could be biased. They took small segments from the source and used those to demonstrate why the source could not be taken at face value. For example, when examining the proposed source of a slave master’s account, Davidson and Lytle examined one aspect of this to make a conclusion. They determined that, “With slaves so dependent on the master’s authority, they were hardly likely to reveal their true feelings; the dangerous consequences of such indiscr...

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...s old. The authors do question whether her mental status was viable or not. However, further background information was needed. It was imperative for the authors to examine the validity of this source before using it. It is not know if the ex-slave was capable of recalling accurate details of her life. Since the authors’ argument was that the same slave told two different stories depending on the circumstances of the interview, how do we know if the stories varied because of the circumstances or because of a poor or maybe even imaginative memory? This background information would make the authors’ arguments even more convincing. However, if we assume that the ex-slave was capable, then the argument is flawless.

Overall, the article was well written. Only minor aspects were left uncovered. In addition, not much background information was needed. Also, the authors’ only had sparse and subtle prejudices. A variety of sources was used effectively. In the end, the thesis was proven convincingly. Almost all audiences would be assured that, “For several reasons, that debased position has made it unusually difficult for historians to recover the freedman’s point of view.”
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