Study Guide - After the Fact


Each chapter of After the Fact explores the variety of methods or tools used by historians

to investigate the past, and the role of the historian as detective. You will learn both

fascinating new information regarding issues and individuals from our past, and how the

use of new methods has opened up new perspectives of historical understanding.


Introduction, and Prologue, "The Strange Death of Silas Deane: The Problem

of Selecting Evidence."


1. In the Introduction, what do the authors mean by the "apprentice approach to history"?


2. How does this text differ from or compare with other history texts that you have read?


3. What in your opinion does the case of "The Strange Death of Silas Deane" demonstrate

regarding the techniques of historical research? How and why was this case re-opened and

has it been "solved"?


4. Outline who Silas Deane was and how the authors use this case to demonstrate how 

“history” is created? Who was Edward Bancroft and why is he important to this story?



 Chapter 15, "Where Trouble Comes: History and Myth in the Films of Vietnam"


1. What is the significance of the term POV in the opening section of the article?


2. According to this article, how do historians and movie makers differ in retelling a past event?

Provide some examples from the text, and from your own experiences with movies.


3. How do the following films attempt to capture a part of the reality of Vietnam: The Green

Berets, The Deer Hunter, Apocalypse Now, the Rambo films, and Platoon?  Are they effective

or authentic in this effort?


4.  What happened at Son My?  Why are the events and the POVs important to understanding 

what occurred, and the impact this incident had on the participants and observers.


5.  Who is Hugh Thompson, and why were his actions heroic?  In what way does the Army record

of his heroism reflect the ambiguities of history and the source materials from which it is drawn?



Chapter 7, "The View from the Bottom Rail: Oral History and the Freedmen’s Point of View"


1. Describe the distinctions between “top rail” and “bottom rail” bias in history, and the difficulty 

of compiling “bottom rail” history.


2. Describe the types of sources that are necessary to create a good social history.


3. Why has it been particularly difficult to compile a history of the Freedmen? Provide examples 

of why freedmen would be reluctant to provide useful historical information.


4. What are the major differences in the narratives provided by Susan Hamlin/Hamilton?  What 

contributed to these differences?


5. How did this reading change your understanding of this subject: the lives of former slaves, both 

before and after emancipation?


6. What do you learn from this chapter regarding the methods necessary to create history?



Chapter 8, "The Mirror with a Memory: Photographic Evidence and the Urban Scene"


This chapter describes how photography provides the historian with an exciting tool for

understanding the social and economic changes occurring in the United States at the end

of the 19th century.


1. Explain who Jacob Riis was and why he is important for understanding the growing

urbanization of the United States.


2. Jacob Riis was an "old immigrant"; what were his opinions regarding the "new immigrants"

in New York City?


3. What the photographs of Riis reveal about the immigrant experience in New York City?


4. Was the camera a "neutral" or "objective" observer of the historical reality captured by Riis?



Chapter 9, "USDA Government Inspected: The Jungle of Political History"


This chapter discusses the importance of several key figures involved in "Progressive" reforms 

initiated at the beginning of the 20th century. It also presents a useful lesson on the process of 

"compromise" in the American political system.


1. Who were the main personalities involved in this struggle over reform of the meatpacking industry, 

and what impact did they have upon the reform of this industry?


2. What lessons does this case study offer for the student of social reform and the political process? 

Explain who "won" and who "lost" in this effort at reform?


3. How and why is Theodore Roosevelt important in this story?


4. How and why is Upton Sinclair important in this story?



Chapter 11, “Dust Bowl Odyssey.”

In this essay the authors try to separate fact from fiction by analyzing the experiences described 

in John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath with data and information drawn from the census of 1940.


1.  Describe briefly the effects of the dust storms of the 1930s.


2.  Who was Dorothea Lange?  In what ways does she illustrate the view that all evidence must 

be carefully examined by historians?


3.  What do we learn about the Joads and the great migration to the West when they are placed 

within a statistical context?  Why is the 1940 census important to this process?


4.  Why are tractors a symbol of the agricultural reorganization and mechanization of farming?


5.  What were conditions really like in California during the 1930s?


6.  In what ways did diversity shape California’s agriculture and history?  How does understanding 

this multicultural experience help to place the arrival of the “Oakies” into the larger context of 

migration of California?


Chapter 13,    "From Rosie to Lucy”

Answer the following questions regarding this essay:


1.   What prompted Betty Friedan to begin her study?  Why did she decide to publish it as a book?


2.   What were some of the reactions to women moving in large numbers to male-dominated jobs?


3.   In what ways did the media influence the post-World War II image of women?  Provide one 

example from the reading.


4.   According to the authors, why have historians largely avoided the debate regarding the influence 

of the media on society?


5.   What does content analysis reveal about television programs from this period?  Do these 

conclusions support Betty Friedan’s argument?


6.   Name two contemporary television programs that reflect social values of the 1990s-2000.  

What are those values, and how does each program reflect them?



Chapter 14, “Breaking into Watergate”

  Answer the following questions regarding this essay:


1.   How did Watergate Committee members first learn about Richard Nixon’s tapes?


2.   Why were historians excited by the possibility of reviewing Nixon’s tapes?  What are the

advantages of audio tapes over written notes or memoirs?


3.   Why did Richard Nixon install a sophisticated recording system in his office after pulling out

the system installed by President Lyndon Johnson?  How had Johnson justified his recording of



4.   When some of the Nixon tapes became available, members of the media believed that “the

public could now have history pure and simple without the interfering hand of the historian.” 

Did this turn out to be the case?  Explain why, or why not.


5.   What are the differences between the Nixon tapes and the Kennedy Cuban Missile Crisis

tapes?  How do these tapes affect how we view each President in a historical context, and during

a time of crisis?