Published Date

January 1, 2004

From Teaching Difficult Legal or Political Concepts: Using Online Primary Sources in Writing Assignments (2004)

Located at
Reviewed by Sue C. Patrick

The Avalon Project has several hundred documents available in English that date from the Code of Hammurabi to the United Nations Security Council Revolution 1199 on Kosovo (September 23, 1998). While the majority of documents available at the site will be of greatest interest to American historians, there are many that would be useful in a Western civilization or world civilization survey course. The home page divides the document collection into four time periods: pre-18th century, 18th century, 19th century, and 20th century. In addition, the home page permits users to search the collections and gives access to the documents under the alternate headings of major collections, titles, subjects, and authors. The home page also gives access to the bibliography for the documents, a text comparison (using side-by-side frames) of six documents, a statement of purpose for the project, a list of new entries, and a helpdesk. Finally, the home page allows visitors to submit e-mail questions or to report errors in the documents.

Because the documents are all in English, most are easy to read and understand. The most difficult are those that were written originally in the English of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, which are transcribed with the spelling and syntax of that era. Thus, the “Laws of William the Conqueror” and “The Golden Bull of the Emperor Charles IV 1356 A.D.” are ironically more easy to read than the “Charter to Sir Walter Raleigh: March 25, 1584” issued by Queen Elizabeth I or the “Charter of Connecticut – April 23, 1662” issued by Charles II. Teachers wishing to assign documents for reading and study will want to keep this in mind.

Those instructors who are teaching Western civilization will find the collections of medieval, World War II and Cold War documents most useful, I believe. The medieval collection, for example, would allow students to compare and contrast “The Salic Law” with “Anglo-Saxon Law – Extracts From Early Laws of the English” to determine how similar different Germanic tribes were in their approach to the law. The documents related to World War II include not only a number of wartime diplomatic conferences and agreements among the major Allied Powers but also information from “The British War Blue Book” (1934-1939), “The Munich Pact and Associated Documents,” and “Germany and the Soviet Union Foreign Policy – November 1937 to July 1938.” The material for the Cold War is less broad in its coverage than that on World War II, relying primarily on the United States as a source of information. It does include the text of the “Brussels Treaty,” “NATO Treaty,” and “The Warsaw Security Pact,” as well as documents related to “The U2 Incident” and the “Cuban Missile Crisis.”

Next section: Western Civilization to the Renaissance Syllabus