As an artifact of its time, the letter offers clues not only about an individual author, but also insights about the time and place in which it was written. Group your research questions under the appropriate context, and then choose three of these contexts to investigate further. You may wish to work together, or to assign each person his/her own context to investigate.
- Biographical context
- What was occurring in Adams' life at this point? How does the letter reflect lessons/ideas/ambitions/ideologies of his life up to this point? Does it connect to major events in his past? Does it seem to forecast his future behavior/values/convictions? Who was the recipient? What was his background? Was he a trusted friend or advisor to Adams? What can you surmise about their relationship? Is this letter part of a series of letters between the two?
- Socio-political context
- What was going on in the country at this period? Does the letter participate in the politics of the day? What major events does the letter mention, allude to, or fail to mention? How "official" does the letter seem? What were the conventions of letter writing or the method of delivery?
- Literary context
- What had Adams published at this point? What were the most popular works of his day? What was the recipient publishing? What were the major literary influences at this period? How has Adams been historicized-- how is he historically remembered in popular culture-- how is he represented (or how would he be represented in Adams: the Movie)?
- Scholarly context
- What are scholars saying/writing/asking about Adams today? How does the letter support or refute those ideas? What major works/collections/anthologies exist on Adams? What authoritative websites are good resources for people to visit to learn more about him? Does the letter offer new insights or challenges to traditional ideas about Adams?
Questions for the process narrative:
Is this letter a useful artifact of its time, or does it leave questions maddeningly unanswered? For readers to "time travel" back to understand the letter, what knowledge did you decide they would require? Why did you select your particular context? How did you go about locating information? Did you find anything surprising or exciting? What questions remain unanswered? What are some good areas for future research?