Historiography: Primary Sources

Words: 839
Topic: History

The study of primary and secondary sources enables a person to achieve several important objectives. At first, one can understand the general tendencies that characterize a certain historical period. Yet, this approach is helpful for examining the opinion of separate individuals and their responses to changing lifestyles or values.

This issue can be illustrated by examining the article written by Melissa Weinbrenner and the judicial opinion on the activities of the Memphis Censor Board. To a great extent, they considerably supplement one another. In this case, the primary source shows that very often, social trends do not affect different communities in the same way. Moreover, sometimes local policy-makers may try to slow down the transformation of the society. These are the main questions that should be discussed in greater detail.

At the beginning of the twentieth century, American society underwent significant changes in terms of lifestyles, values, and attitudes. To a great extent, this transformation could be attributed to significant technological innovations such as the increasing use of automotive vehicles, telephone, or cinematography. To a great extent, these innovations made many people more skeptical and open-minded. Additionally, they could not easily the norms of morality imposed on them.

Apart from that, the films created during this period reflected the new trends emerging in the community. For example, they could portray divorce in a more approving way. On the whole, movies became more realistic. In many cases, these practices of film-makers were not condemned from an ethical viewpoint. These are some of the issues identified by Melissa Weinbrenner in the article which is very informative.

Nevertheless, the study of primary documents indicates that the attitudes of American people could vary dramatically. More importantly, in some cases, individuals and organizations could resist this transformation of social values. Additionally, they wanted to shape the work of film-makers. In order to illustrate this issue, one can examine the court decision related to the censorship of the film The King of Kings directed by Cecil Blount DeMille.

In this case, one should speak about the activities of the Memphis Censor Board headed by Lloyd Binford, since this organization was notorious for its attempts to influence the work of film-makers. In particular, this agency intended to remove the scenes from the movie The King of Kings depicting the life of Jesus Christ.

Overall, this institution laid stress on the need for the evaluation of cinematographic works from a moral viewpoint. They insisted that the film-makers should remove the scenes of violence. Furthermore, any attempt to show this film without these cuts could be regarded as the criminal offense. Some of the local theaters attempted to object to these activities of the board. However, this decision was eventually supported by the court.

This is one of the main details that should be taken into consideration. One should keep in mind that censor boards did not necessarily play a critical role in the community. Yet, in some cases, they could profoundly shape the public opinion. Thus, this court decision indicates that conservative attitudes played a very important role in American society at the beginning of the twentieth century. This issue is not discussed by Melissa Weinbrenner in her article. Thus, the study of primary sources can be very informative.

Overall, the use of primary sources is important because it helps a researcher understand the perspectives and attitudes of people who could live through a certain historical period. In this way, one can gain a better idea about the exceptions from the general trends that characterize society. In particular, many people could not easily accept new values and moral standards. This argument is particularly relevant if one speaks about the activities of Lloyd Binford and the censor board that he guided. This is one of the points that can be made.

Nevertheless, one should take into account that sometimes the study of primary sources can be misleading, especially if a person examines only a small number of such documents. In particular, a researcher can believe that a certain primary source throws light on the general trends, but this assumption may eventually prove erroneous.

Moreover, one should keep in mind that the author of a primary source could be a biased person. These are some of the pitfalls that should be avoided in order to make sure that a person can form an impartial opinion about a historical period. Nevertheless, this limitation does not undermine the usefulness of studying primary sources.

On the whole, this discussion shows that primary sources can supplement the books and articles written by various researchers. In particular, they can demonstrate that in many cases there could be very strong opposition to the new trends affecting the community. In this case, one can speak about people with very conservative attitudes.

Additionally, the court decision indicates that at the beginning of the twentieth century, some people could object to the transformation of social values. Additionally, they laid stress on the evaluation of films from an ethical viewpoint. These are the main aspects that can be distinguished.


“Judicial opinion on a case concerning the legitimacy of the Memphis Board of Censors requiring cuts in King of Kings.” MPPDA. Accessed February 17, 2015. http://mppda.flinders.edu.au/records/2088

Weinbrenner, Melissa. “Movies, Model Ts, and Morality: The Impact of Technology on Standards of Behavior in the Early Twentieth Century.” The Journal of Popular Culture 44, no. 3 (2011): 649-659.