Primary Source Analysis

Primary Source Analysis papers make up 8 of the portfolio’s assignments, and will be assigned in Lessons 1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 13. You’ll find the sources themselves in your textbook (Bulliet, et. al.), and I will identify them in each relevant lesson.

What is a primary source? A primary source is a letter, book, image, memoir, document, or other source of information that was created at the time of the events which the historian is studying. The historian locates primary sources, mines them of their information, and interprets them to write history. Primary sources are all the evidence we have to get at the truth about the past. What I’m asking you to do with the primary source selections in your text is play the role of the historian by questioning and analyzing their content, the first step toward writing history.

I am quite particular about the format of each paper:

  • In the upper left corner, place your name, a comma, and your Net ID all on the same line—nothing else. For example: Jane Smith, jsmith94.
  • Your written answers and analysis should start on the next line and will consist of one single-spaced page in 11-point font (Times New Roman preferred) with one-inch margins.
  • Fill the page: do notdouble-space between paragraphs and don’t leave a lot of white space at the top or bottom of the page. Stretch your writing and your mind to cover the page in thought.

First, do the lesson’s reading assignments (course manual, textbook) as this can help you be informed of the source’s context and can help spark thought. Second, read the source(s) carefully to learn what they say. Then, based on what the source says and your own intelligent thinking, answer the question I present in the course material for each. You must use at least the first half of the page to answer my question(s). You can continue to page end if you like on my question or at any point beyond the half page mark you can answer one of the questions in the textbook, at the end of the document(s). Or, even better, form your own question and answer it in the second half of the page. The historian’s hardest job, in fact, is asking questions, not answering them; so if you feel ambitious and want to address an issue that interests you—express your own academic freedom—use the second half of the page to form and answer your own question. Make sure you state your question clearly before you start to answer it.

As these are thought papers, they have no right answers, so don’t get stressed about being right or wrong. Few historians would get anything right if they had to rely on just one or two primary sources alone to answer a historical question. However, like a historian does, I want you to aim for the truth. Ask yourself if your thoughts, conclusions, or assertions are reasonable based on the source’s content. This is an exercise. Its purpose is to force you to think, form your own opinion, and discover, if not the truth, the process of finding the truth about the past. The point, again, is to make you think, which is the principal skill or aptitude one should gain from a college education. Combined, these 8 assignments make up 50% of the portfolio’s grade.


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