MCAT Verbal : Understanding alternative interpretations

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for MCAT Verbal

varsity tutors app store varsity tutors android store

Example Questions

Example Question #1 : Understanding Alternative Interpretations

Adapted from “Robespierre” in Critical Miscellanies by John Morley (1904)

M. D'Héricault does not belong to the school of writers who treat the course of history as a great high road, following a firmly traced line, and set with plain and ineffaceable landmarks. The French Revolution has nearly always been handled in this way, alike by those who think it fruitful in blessings, and by their adversaries, who pronounce it a curse inflicted by the wrath of Heaven. Historians have looked at the Revolution as a plain landsman looks at the sea. To the landsman the ocean seems one huge immeasurable flood, obeying a simple law of ebb and flow, and offering to the navigator a single uniform force. Yet in truth we know that the oceanic movement is the product of many forces; the seeming uniformity covers the energy of a hundred currents and counter-currents; the sea-floor is not even nor the same, but is subject to untold conditions of elevation and subsidence; the sea is not one mass, but many masses moving along definite lines of their own. It is the same with the great tides of history. Wise men shrink from summing them up in single propositions. That the French Revolution led to an immense augmentation of happiness, both for the French and for mankind, can only be denied by the Pope. That it secured its beneficent results untempered by any mixture of evil, can only be maintained by men as mad as Doctor Pangloss. The Greek poetess Corinna said to the youthful Pindar, when he had interwoven all the gods and goddesses in the Theban mythology into a single hymn, that we should sow with the hand and not with the sack. Corinna's monition to the singer is proper to the interpreter of historical truth: he should cull with the hand, and not sweep in with the scythe. It is doubtless mere pedantry to abstain from the widest conception of the sum of a great movement. A clear, definite, and stable idea of the meaning in the history of human progress of such vast groups of events as the Reformation or the Revolution, is indispensable for anyone to whom history is a serious study of society. It is just as important, however, not to forget that they were really groups of events, and not in either case a single uniform movement. A sensible man learns, in everyday life, to abstain from praising and blaming character by wholesale; he becomes content to say of this trait that it is good, and of that act that it was bad.

M. D'Héricault's volume naturally suggests such reflections as these. Of all the men of the Revolution, Robespierre has suffered most from the audacious idolatry of some writers, and the splenetic impatience of others. M. Louis Blanc and M. Ernest Hamel talk of him as an angel or a prophet, and the Ninth Thermidor is a red day indeed in their martyrology. Michelet and M. D'Héricault treat him as a mixture of Cagliostro and Caligula, both a charlatan and a miscreant. We are reminded of the commencement of an address of the French Senate to the first Bonaparte: 'Sire,' they began, 'the desire for perfection is one of the worst maladies that can afflict the human mind.' This bold aphorism touches one of the roots of the judgments we pass both upon men and events. It is because people so irrationally think fit to insist upon perfection, that Robespierre's admirers would fain deny that he ever had a fault, and the tacit adoption of the same impracticable standard makes it easier for Robespierre's wholesale detractors to deny that he had a single virtue or performed a single service. The point of view is essentially unfit for history. It is folly for the historian, as it is for the statesman, to strain after the imaginative unity of the dramatic creator. Social progress is an affair of many small pieces and slow accretions, and the interest of historic study lies in tracing, amid the immense turmoil of events and through the confusion of voices, the devious course of the sacred torch, as it shifts from bearer to bearer. And it is not the bearers who are most interesting, but the torch.

What criticism does the author level against the “school of writers” to whom M. D'Hericault does not belong to?

Possible Answers:

They ignore the accomplishments of common men, preferring to celebrate the already renowned.

They rely on specious evidence to make their arguments.

They view the French Revolution as a positive step in human advancement.

They view history as one uninterrupted and uniform progression.

They are unwilling to debate or compromise.

Correct answer:

They view history as one uninterrupted and uniform progression.

Explanation:

The author notes that this “school of writers” “treat the course of history as a great high road, following a firmly traced line.“ He would deride these writers for trying to summarize history “in single propositions.” The author is essentially accusing these writers of practicing “Whig History,” a historical discipline that sees history as one continuous progression and advancement. It is clear from the context of the rest of this essay that the author believes this to be poor historical practice.

Example Question #1 : Understanding Alternative Interpretations

Adapted from Eminent Victorians by Lytton Strachey (1918)

He belonged to that class of eminent ecclesiastics—and it is by no means a small class—who have been distinguished less for saintliness and learning than for practical ability. Had he lived in the Middle Ages he would certainly have been neither a Francis nor an Aquinas, but he might have been an Innocent. As it was, born in the England of the nineteenth century, growing up in the very seed-time of modern progress, coming to maturity with the first onrush of Liberalism, and living long enough to witness the victories of Science and Democracy, he yet, by a strange concatenation of circumstances, seemed almost to revive in his own person that long line of diplomatic and administrative clerics which, one would have thought, had come to an end for ever with Cardinal Wolsey.

In Manning, so it appeared, the Middle Ages lived again. The tall gaunt figure, with the face of smiling asceticism, the robes, and the biretta, as it passed in triumph from High Mass at the Oratory to philanthropic gatherings at Exeter Hall, from Strike Committees at the Docks to Mayfair drawing-rooms where fashionable ladies knelt to the Prince of the Church, certainly bore witness to a singular condition of affairs. What had happened? Had a dominating character imposed itself upon a hostile environment? Or was the nineteenth century, after all, not so hostile? Was there something in it, scientific and progressive as it was, that went out to welcome the representative of ancient tradition and uncompromising faith? Had it, perhaps, a place in its heart for such as Manning—a soft place, one might almost say? Or, on the other hand, was it he who had been supple and yielding? He who had won by art what he would never have won by force, and who had managed, so to speak, to be one of the leaders of the procession less through merit than through a superior faculty for gliding adroitly to the front rank? And, in any case, by what odd chances, what shifts and struggles, what combinations of circumstance and character, had this old man come to be where he was?

Which of these is a possible alternative interpretation of the author’s conclusions about Manning?

Possible Answers:

Manning was ostracized and derided in his own time.

Manning ascended to his position as much by chance as by intent.

Manning’s religious observations were merely a disguise to hide his true intentions.

Manning was beloved by the common people but unable to befriend the nobility.

Manning was completely uninterested in government, or power, but nonetheless found himself involved in the maintenance of both.

Correct answer:

Manning ascended to his position as much by chance as by intent.

Explanation:

In the conclusion the author sets up a dichotomy of questions that essentially asks “Was Manning an exception in his time, or was his time more favorable to people of his ilk than we generally understand it to be?” This then leads the author to wonder at the very end: “And, in any case, by what odd chances, what shifts and struggles, what combinations of circumstance and character, had this old man come to be where he was?” This would seem to imply that the author is unsure of whether Manning ascended to his position through luck or skill and that he might therefore agree that “odd chances” and “circumstance” played as much of a role in his ascension as his intent or “character.”

Example Question #2 : Understanding Alternative Interpretations

Adapted from "Bees" in What is Man? And Other Essays (1906) by Mark Twain.

Bee scientists always speak of the bee as she. It is because all the important bees are of that sex. In the hive there is one married bee, called the queen; she has fifty thousand children; of these, about one hundred are sons; the rest are daughters. Some of the daughters are young maids, some are old maids, and all are virgins and remain so.

Every spring the queen comes out of the hive and flies away with one of her sons and marries him. The honeymoon lasts only an hour or two; then the queen divorces her husband and returns home competent to lay two million eggs. This will be enough to last the year, but not more than enough, because hundreds of bees get drowned every day, and other hundreds are eaten by birds, and it is the queen's business to keep the population up to standard—say, fifty thousand. She must always have that many children on hand and efficient during the busy season, which is summer, or winter would catch the community short of food. She lays from two thousand to three thousand eggs a day, according to the demand; and she must exercise judgment, and not lay more than are needed in a slim flower-harvest, nor fewer than are required in a prodigal one, or the board of directors will dethrone her and elect a queen that has more sense.

There are always a few royal heirs in stock and ready to take her place—ready and more than anxious to do it, although she is their own mother. These girls are kept by themselves, and are regally fed and tended from birth. No other bees get such fine food as they get, or live such a high and luxurious life. By consequence they are larger and longer and sleeker than their working sisters. And they have a curved sting, shaped like a scimitar, while the others have a straight one.

A common bee will sting anyone or anybody, but a royalty stings royalties only. A common bee will sting and kill another common bee, for cause, but when it is necessary to kill the queen other ways are employed. When a queen has grown old and slack and does not lay eggs enough one of her royal daughters is allowed to come to attack her, the rest of the bees looking on at the duel and seeing fair play. It is a duel with the curved stings. If one of the fighters gets hard pressed and gives it up and runs, she is brought back and must try again—once, maybe twice; then, if she runs yet once more for her life, judicial death is her portion; her children pack themselves into a ball around her person and hold her in that compact grip two or three days, until she starves to death or is suffocated. Meantime the victor bee is receiving royal honors and performing the one royal function—laying eggs.

During substantially the whole of her short life of five or six years the queen lives in the Egyptian darkness and stately seclusion of the royal apartments, with none about her but plebeian servants, who give her empty lip-affection in place of the love which her heart hungers for; who spy upon her in the interest of her waiting heirs, and report and exaggerate her defects and deficiencies to them; who fawn upon her and flatter her to her face and slander her behind her back; who grovel before her in the day of her power and forsake her in her age and weakness. There she sits, friendless, upon her throne through the long night of her life, cut off from the consoling sympathies and sweet companionship and loving endearments which she craves, by the gilded barriers of her awful rank; a forlorn exile in her own house and home, weary object of formal ceremonies and machine-made worship, winged child of the sun, native to the free air and the blue skies and the flowery fields, doomed by the splendid accident of her birth to trade this priceless heritage for a black captivity, a tinsel grandeur, and a loveless life, with shame and insult at the end and a cruel death—and condemned by the human instinct in her to hold the bargain valuable!

Huber, Lubbock, and Maeterlinck are agreed in denying that the bee is a member of the human family. I do not know why they have done this, but I think it is from dishonest motives. Why, the innumerable facts brought to light by their own painstaking and exhaustive experiments prove that if there is a master fool in the world, it is the bee. That seems to settle it.  

But that is the way of the scientist, who will spend thirty years in building up a mountain range of facts with the intent to prove a certain theory, then is so happy in this achievement that, as a rule, the chief fact of all is overlooked—that this accumulation proves an entirely different thing. When you point out this miscarriage, the scientist does not answer your letters. Scientists have odious manners, except when you prop up their theory; then you can borrow money from them. To be strictly fair, I will concede that now and then one of them will answer your letter, but when they do they avoid the issue—you cannot pin them down. When I discovered that the bee was human I wrote about it to all those scientists whom I have just mentioned. For evasions, I have seen nothing to equal the answers I got.

Which of these is the most reasonable interpretation of the underlined paragraph?

Possible Answers:

Bees are incapable of feeling human emotion and feeling and are merely creatures of habit.

People are drawn towards power because it makes them feel as if their life has purpose.

People often make the mistake of abandoning freedom for the illusion of power.

People have long been dependent on bees to ensure an abundant supply of food.

Bees and people have the love of liberty and independence in common.

Correct answer:

People often make the mistake of abandoning freedom for the illusion of power.

Explanation:

In the underlined paragraph the author talks about how the Queen bee must forsake the freedom and independence of an ordinary bee, free to fly about in the open air, for the solitude and captivity of her function. It is clear from the author’s statement that she is "condemned by the human instinct in her to hold the bargain valuable," and that the author is equating the characteristics of bees with that of humans, deriding the human understanding that it is worth abandoning real freedom for the illusion of power.

Example Question #3 : Understanding Alternative Interpretations

Adapted from "Robespierre" in Critical Miscellanies (1904) by John Morley.

Robespierre's youth was embittered by sharp misfortune. His mother died when he was only seven years old, and his father had so little courage under the blow that he threw up his practice, deserted his children, and died in purposeless wanderings through Germany. The burden that the weak and selfish throw down must be taken up by the brave. Friendly kinsfolk charged themselves with the maintenance of the four orphans. Maximilian was sent to the school of the town, whence he proceeded with a sizarship to the college of Louis-le-Grand in Paris. He was an apt and studious pupil, but austere, and disposed to that sombre cast of spirits which is common enough where a lad of some sensibility and much self-esteem finds himself stamped with a badge of social inferiority. Robespierre's worshippers love to dwell on his fondness for birds: with the universal passion of mankind for legends of the saints, they tell how the untimely death of a favourite pigeon afflicted him with anguish so poignant that, even sixty long years after, it made his sister's heart ache to look back upon the pain of that tragic moment. Always a sentimentalist, Robespierre was from boyhood a devout enthusiast for the great high priest of the sentimental tribe. Rousseau was then passing the last squalid days of his life among the meadows and woods at Ermenonville. Robespierre, who could not have been more than twenty at the time, for Rousseau died in the summer of 1778, is said to have gone on a reverential pilgrimage in search of an oracle from the lonely sage, as Boswell and as Gibbon and a hundred others had gone before him. Rousseau was wont to use his real adorers as ill as he used his imaginary enemies. Robespierre may well have shared the discouragement of the enthusiastic father who informed Rousseau that he was about to bring up his son on the principles of Emilius. "Then so much the worse," cried the perverse philosopher, "both for you and your son." If he had been endowed with second sight, he would have thought at least as rude a presage due to this last and most ill-starred of a whole generation of neophytes.

In 1781 Robespierre returned home, and amid the welcome of his relatives and the good hopes of friends began the practice of an advocate. For eight years he led an active and seemly life. He was not wholly pure from that indiscretion of the young appetite, about which the world is mute, but whose better ordering and governance would give a diviner brightness to the earth. Still, if he did not escape the ordeal of youth, Robespierre was frugal, laborious, and persevering. His domestic amiability made him the delight of his sister, and his zealous self-sacrifice for the education and advancement in life of his younger brother was afterwards repaid by Augustin Robespierre's devotion through all the fierce and horrible hours of Thermidor. Though cold in temperament, extremely reserved in manners, and fond of industrious seclusion, Robespierre did not disdain the social diversions of the town. He was a member of a reunion of Rosati, who sang madrigals and admired one another's bad verses. Those who love the ironical surprises of fate, may picture the young man who was doomed to play so terrible a part in terrible affairs, going through the harmless follies of a ceremonial reception by the Rosati, taking three deep breaths over a rose, solemnly fastening the emblem to his coat, emptying a glass of rose-red wine at a draught to the good health of the company, and finally reciting couplets that Voltaire would have found almost as detestable as the Law of Prairial or the Festival of the Supreme Being. More laudable efforts of ambition were prize essays, in which Robespierre has the merit of taking the right side in important questions. He protested against the inhumanity of laws that inflicted civil infamy upon the innocent family of a convicted criminal. And he protested against the still more horrid cruelty which reduced unfortunate children born out of wedlock to something like the status of the mediæval serf. Robespierre's compositions at this time do not rise above the ordinary level of declaiming mediocrity, but they promised a manhood of benignity and enlightenment. To compose prize essays on political reforms was better than to ignore or to oppose political reform. But the course of events afterwards owed their least desirable bias to the fact that such compositions were the nearest approach to political training that so many of the revolutionary leaders underwent.

It may be understood from the conclusion that __________.

Possible Answers:

the author was a personal friend and correspondent of Robespierre

the author believes the French Revolution to have been a violent, but necessary, step forward in the advancement of mankind

the author reveres and deplores Robespierre in almost equal measure

the author attributes much of the horror of the French Revolution to the lack of experience possessed by the revolutionaries

Robespierre never desired the heights of power that he achieved and was never wholly comfortable fulfilling the role demanded of him.

Correct answer:

the author attributes much of the horror of the French Revolution to the lack of experience possessed by the revolutionaries

Explanation:

The author notes that Robespierre was an active political writer and that, although his writing was no better than mediocre, he at least was on the right side of political progress. The author also notes that such writing was the only training that most revolutionaries received and they were therefore unfit to lead a government during and immediately after the revolution. That the author believes this may be observed in the last line of the essay, which reads “To compose prize essays on political reforms was better than to ignore or to oppose political reform. But the course of events afterwards owed their least desirable bias to the fact that such compositions were the nearest approach to political training that so many of the revolutionary leaders underwent.”

Example Question #4 : Understanding Alternative Interpretations

Adapted from The Story of Eclipses by George F. Chambers (1900)

Among the auxiliary agencies which have been brought into use in recent years to enable astronomers the better to carry out systematic observations of eclipses of the Sun, the electric telegraph occupies a place which may hereafter become prominent. As it is not likely that this little book will fall into the hands of any persons who would be able to make much use of telegraphy in connection with eclipse observations, it will not be necessary to give much space to the matter, but a few outlines will certainly be interesting. When the idea of utilizing the telegraph wire first came into men’s minds, it was with the object of enabling observers who saw the commencement of an eclipse at one end of the line of totality to give cautionary notices to observers farther on, or towards the far end, of special points which had been seen at the beginning of the totality, and as to which confirmatory observations, at a later hour, were evidently very desirable. It is obvious that a scheme of this kind depends for its success upon each end (or something like it) of the line of totality being in telegraphic communication with the other end, and this involves a combination of favorable circumstances not likely to exist at every occurrence of a total eclipse, and in general only likely to prevail in the case of eclipses visible over inhabited territory, such as the two Americas, Europe, and parts of Asia. This use of the telegraph was, I think, first proposed as far back as 1878, by an American astronomer, in connection with the total eclipse of that year. His proposal fell upon sympathetic ears, with the result that arrangements were concluded with the Western Union Telegraph Company of North America for the expeditious forwarding of messages from northern stations on the eclipse line to southern stations. Some attention was being given at that time to the question of Intra-Mercurial planets, and it was thought that if by good fortune any such objects were unexpectedly found at the northern station, and observers at a southern station could be advised of the fact, there might be a better chance of procuring an accurate and precise record of the discovery. As it happened, nothing came of it on that occasion, but the idea of utilizing the telegraph having once taken possession of men’s minds, it was soon seen what important possibilities were opened up.

With which of these arguments would the author of this passage most likely agree?

Possible Answers:

The ability to send messages vast distances near-instantaneously is revolutionizing the field of astronomy.

The author of this passage would not agree with any of these statements.

Eclipse observations are the most significant form of astronomical study.

Astronomers are generally wealthy and able to afford the time and resources required to conduct observations.

Eclipse observations can only ever be carried out in Europe, North America, or East Asia.

Correct answer:

The ability to send messages vast distances near-instantaneously is revolutionizing the field of astronomy.

Explanation:

The three incorrect answer choices are all much less specifically related to the central argument of the essay than is the correct answer. The author of this passage believes that the electric telegraph is of great significance to astronomical observation because it allows different people around the world, observing the eclipse on the same evening, to communicate findings to one another rapidly over vast distances. The author would therefore be likely to argue that any piece of technology that allows messages to be sent faster and farther would revolutionize the field of astronomy.

Example Question #4 : Understanding Alternative Interpretations

Adapted from The Frontier in American History (1921) by Frederick Jackson Turner

In a recent bulletin of the Superintendent of the Census for 1890 appear these significant words: "Up to and including 1880 the country had a frontier of settlement, but at present the unsettled area has been so broken into by isolated bodies of settlement that there can hardly be said to be a frontier line. In the discussion of its extent, its westward movement, etc., it can not, therefore, any longer have a place in the census reports." This brief official statement marks the closing of a great historic movement. Up to our own day American history has been in a large degree the history of the colonization of the Great West. The existence of an area of free land, its continuous recession, and the advance of American settlement westward, explain American development.

Behind institutions, behind constitutional forms and modifications, lie the vital forces that call these organs into life and shape them to meet changing conditions. The peculiarity of American institutions is, the fact that they have been compelled to adapt themselves to the changes of an expanding people—to the changes involved in crossing a continent, in winning a wilderness, and in developing at each area of this progress out of the primitive economic and political conditions of the frontier into the complexity of city life. Said Calhoun in 1817, "We are great, and rapidly—I was about to say fearfully—growing!" So saying, he touched the distinguishing feature of American life. All peoples show development; the germ theory of politics has been sufficiently emphasized. In the case of most nations, however, the development has occurred in a limited area; and if the nation has expanded, it has met other growing peoples whom it has conquered. But in the case of the United States we have a different phenomenon. Limiting our attention to the Atlantic coast, we have the familiar phenomenon of the evolution of institutions in a limited area, such as the rise of representative government; the differentiation of simple colonial governments into complex organs; the progress from primitive industrial society, without division of labor, up to manufacturing civilization. But we have in addition to this a recurrence of the process of evolution in each western area reached in the process of expansion. Thus American development has exhibited not merely advance along a single line, but a return to primitive conditions on a continually advancing frontier line, and a new development for that area. American social development has been continually beginning over again on the frontier. This perennial rebirth, this fluidity of American life, this expansion westward with its new opportunities, its continuous touch with the simplicity of primitive society, furnish the forces dominating American character. The true point of view in the history of this nation is not the Atlantic coast, it is the Great West. Even the events of the mid 1800's, which are made so exclusive an object of attention by writers like Professor von Holst, occupies their important place in American history because of their relation to westward expansion.

In this advance, the frontier is the outer edge of the wave—the meeting point between the wilderness and civilization. Much has been written about the frontier from the point of view of border warfare and the chase, but as a field for the serious study of the economist and the historian it has been neglected.

The American frontier is sharply distinguished from the European frontier—a fortified boundary line running through dense populations. The most significant thing about the American frontier is, that it lies at the hither edge of free land. In the census reports it is treated as the margin of that settlement which has a density of two or more to the square mile. The term is an elastic one, and for our purposes does not need sharp definition. We shall consider the whole frontier belt including the  outer margin of the "settled area" of the census reports. This paper will make no attempt to treat the subject exhaustively; its aim is simply to call attention to the frontier as a fertile field for investigation, and to suggest some of the problems which arise in connection with it.

What does the author mean by “perennial rebirth”?

Possible Answers:

He is illustrating the temporal nature of the frontier.

He is describing the recurring phenomenon of the evolution of frontier society.

He is referring to the reinvention of America in the century following the Declaration of Independence.

He is discussing the frontier being in no fixed position.

He means the reinvention of the American dream each year the frontier advanced towards the Pacific.

Correct answer:

He is describing the recurring phenomenon of the evolution of frontier society.

Explanation:

Reading this passage: “Thus American development has exhibited not merely advance along a single line, but a return to primitive conditions on a continually advancing frontier line, and a new development for that area. American social development has been continually beginning over again on the frontier. This perennial rebirth, this fluidity of American life, this expansion westward with its new opportunities, its continuous touch with the simplicity of primitive society, furnish the forces dominating American character.” shows that the author is describing how frontier society, each year, was reborn. As the frontier moved forward the towns it left in its wake began to evolve, whilst new more primitive towns were born at its new extremities. Saying it is discussing the frontier as being of no fixed position does not completely describe the authors meaning in this case.

Example Question #5 : Understanding Alternative Interpretations

Adapted from The Frontier in American History (1921) by Frederick Jackson Turner

In a recent bulletin of the Superintendent of the Census for 1890 appear these significant words: "Up to and including 1880 the country had a frontier of settlement, but at present the unsettled area has been so broken into by isolated bodies of settlement that there can hardly be said to be a frontier line. In the discussion of its extent, its westward movement, etc., it can not, therefore, any longer have a place in the census reports." This brief official statement marks the closing of a great historic movement. Up to our own day American history has been in a large degree the history of the colonization of the Great West. The existence of an area of free land, its continuous recession, and the advance of American settlement westward, explain American development.

Behind institutions, behind constitutional forms and modifications, lie the vital forces that call these organs into life and shape them to meet changing conditions. The peculiarity of American institutions is, the fact that they have been compelled to adapt themselves to the changes of an expanding people—to the changes involved in crossing a continent, in winning a wilderness, and in developing at each area of this progress out of the primitive economic and political conditions of the frontier into the complexity of city life. Said Calhoun in 1817, "We are great, and rapidly—I was about to say fearfully—growing!" So saying, he touched the distinguishing feature of American life. All peoples show development; the germ theory of politics has been sufficiently emphasized. In the case of most nations, however, the development has occurred in a limited area; and if the nation has expanded, it has met other growing peoples whom it has conquered. But in the case of the United States we have a different phenomenon. Limiting our attention to the Atlantic coast, we have the familiar phenomenon of the evolution of institutions in a limited area, such as the rise of representative government; the differentiation of simple colonial governments into complex organs; the progress from primitive industrial society, without division of labor, up to manufacturing civilization. But we have in addition to this a recurrence of the process of evolution in each western area reached in the process of expansion. Thus American development has exhibited not merely advance along a single line, but a return to primitive conditions on a continually advancing frontier line, and a new development for that area. American social development has been continually beginning over again on the frontier. This perennial rebirth, this fluidity of American life, this expansion westward with its new opportunities, its continuous touch with the simplicity of primitive society, furnish the forces dominating American character. The true point of view in the history of this nation is not the Atlantic coast, it is the Great West. Even the events of the mid 1800's, which are made so exclusive an object of attention by writers like Professor von Holst, occupies their important place in American history because of their relation to westward expansion.

In this advance, the frontier is the outer edge of the wave—the meeting point between the wilderness and civilization. Much has been written about the frontier from the point of view of border warfare and the chase, but as a field for the serious study of the economist and the historian it has been neglected.

The American frontier is sharply distinguished from the European frontier—a fortified boundary line running through dense populations. The most significant thing about the American frontier is, that it lies at the hither edge of free land. In the census reports it is treated as the margin of that settlement which has a density of two or more to the square mile. The term is an elastic one, and for our purposes does not need sharp definition. We shall consider the whole frontier belt including the  outer margin of the "settled area" of the census reports. This paper will make no attempt to treat the subject exhaustively; its aim is simply to call attention to the frontier as a fertile field for investigation, and to suggest some of the problems which arise in connection with it.

When the author says: “Limiting our attention to the Atlantic coast, we have the familiar phenomenon of the evolution of institutions in a limited area” he most nearly means __________.

Possible Answers:

The frontier was so different to the Atlantic coast it was as if America were two countries

If we focus on the evolution of the Atlantic coast we see little diversification

We cannot know how a country evolves by looking at a single coastline

Those who study the evolution of East coast society are effectively studying that of Europe

We are blind to the evolution of the frontier

Correct answer:

If we focus on the evolution of the Atlantic coast we see little diversification

Explanation:

The author is stating that the Atlantic coast and the way it evolved varied very little, hence it lacked diversification. If this question was about the phrase in the context of the passage we may include some detail of the frontier but the answer concerning the frontier fails to grasp that the author is including the two types of evolution as two aspects of one whole part of the country.

Example Question #6 : Understanding Alternative Interpretations

Adapted from Albert William Parry's Education in the Middle Ages (1920).

The introduction of Christianity to this country subsequent to the Saxon invasion was effected by means of two independent agencies—the Roman mission under the leadership of Augustine which arrived in Thanet in 597, and the Scottish missionaries who, in response to the invitation of Oswald, king of Northumbria, took up their residence in the island of Lindisfarne in 635.

The primary task of these missionaries was obviously that of converting a people who professed a heathen religion to an adherence to the Christian faith. The accomplishment of this main task, however, involved two additional tasks, the one moral, the other social. A dismal picture of the moral condition of the settlers in this country in the fifth century has been painted by Montalembert. Basing his account on Ozanam’s “Germains avant la Christianisme” he asks, “What could be expected in point of morality from persons accustomed to invoke and to worship Woden, the god of massacres, Freya, the Venus of the North, the goddess of sensuality, and all those bloody and obscene gods of whom the one had for his emblem a naked sword and another the hammer with which he broke the heads of his enemies?” He continues, “The immortality which was promised to them in their Valhalla but reserved for them new days of slaughter and nights of debauchery spent in drinking deep in the halls of their victims. And in this world, their life was but too often a prolonged indulgence of carnage, plundering and lechery.” Herein lay the moral task which awaited the Christian missionaries. They had to replace the existing national ideals with the ideals of Christianity—ideals of the highest standard of personal morality. The social task undertaken by the missionaries was that of elevating this country from a condition of barbarism into a state of civilisation. Referring to the results of the introduction of Christianity, Green writes, “The new England was admitted into the older commonwealth of nations. The civilisation, art, letters, which had fled before the sword of the English conquest returned with the Christian faith.”

What means could be adopted by the missionaries to accomplish the ends they had in view? It is obvious that continual teaching and instruction would be imperative to meet the needs of the converts to the new faith, and it is equally clear that it would be necessary to provide for the creation of a native ministry in order that the labours of the early missionaries might be continued. Teaching, consequently, occupies a position of the greatest importance, and it is to the educational aspect of the labours of these missionaries rather than to the religious or the ecclesiastical aspect that our attention is now directed. It may be advisable for us to remind ourselves that these missionaries came to this country speaking the Latin tongue, that the services of the Church were carried on in that language, and that such books as existed were also written in Latin. It is necessary to make this point clear in order to show that schools for instruction in this language would be imperative from the very first.

It is also important to remember, as Montalembert points out, that the conversion of England was effected by means of monks, first of the Benedictine monks sent from Rome, and afterwards of Celtic monks. We may here lay down a general hypothesis, which the course of this thesis will tend to demonstrate: the educational institutions established in this country were due to an imitation of those which had been in operation elsewhere. The Christian missionaries to England, for example, did not originate a system of education. They adopted what they had seen in operation in the parent monasteries from which they came, and, in so doing, they would naturally adapt the system to the special needs of the country. Some exceptions to this general principle may be found; they will be noted in their proper place.

Accepting this hypothesis, before we can proceed to consider the special work for education of the monasteries in this country, it is necessary briefly to review the meaning of monachism and to consider the extent to which monasteries had previously associated themselves with educational work.

With which of the following statements would the author most likely agree?

Possible Answers:

The works of Oznam were unresearched.

The introduction of Christianity was not particularly organized.

There is merit in looking at the introduction of Christianity to England for those who wish to live in other countries.

One must be careful in making assumptions about historical societies.

The Saxons were a noble people who only needed Christianity to become civilized.

Correct answer:

The introduction of Christianity was not particularly organized.

Explanation:

We can see from the passage that the attempts at converting the people of England to Christianity were not particularly organized from the passage and can therefore the author would concede that they were not. The other answers do not really suit the tone of the author or the information he gives. The Saxons needed to be changed “morally and socially” and Oznam, though mentioned briefly is used as a source not as an example of folly. We cannot support the answer concerning “other countries” as it does not fit completely with the passage, the author may have agreed or he may not have: we simply cannot say for certain either way. The answer concerning teaching is completely unsupported by the passage.

Learning Tools by Varsity Tutors

Incompatible Browser

Please upgrade or download one of the following browsers to use Instant Tutoring: