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Primary Source Analysis #1
due Fri Jan 28 at 11:59pm ET
Primary sources offer first-hand accounts of past events or experiences and are, therefore, central
to the social sciences, particularly the disciplines of history, sociology, and anthropology. To
demonstrate aptitude in analyzing such sources, students will submit two short writing
assignments deciphering and contextualizing the stories or experiences conveyed by a single
Choosing a Source
For your first primary source analysis, choose a single primary source related to a topic we have
covered thus far (up to and including the topics covered on Jan 27). You may select a source that
was assigned (including images that appear on the lecture slides) or one that you find online.
Take care to choose a source that is compelling to you. Your task is not merely to summarize or
describe the source and the information it conveys, but to analyze how this source might be
useful to historians and other social scientists trying to make sense of a specific figure or event
from the past. Make sure that you select a primary source; secondary sources are not appropriate
for this assignment. If you have questions about this, please let me know. You may need to do
some background research on the source (the date, the creator, the publication, etc.). Be sure to
cite the source of any outside information.
You must submit your selected source for approval no later than Thu Jan 27 at 5pm ET via
the posted link.
After choosing a source, examine it closely and/or read it multiple times. Consider the messages,
themes, or images it conveys. Then consider the following factors in evaluating the strengths and
limitations of the source you have selected:
Identity: Who made this source?
Authority: How close was the creator to the event(s) they describe?
Audience: Who was the source created for? What was the target audience, and why?
Motivations: Why was this source created? Did the creator have something to gain or lose
in influencing how the event would be understood?
Context: When was the source created? How long after the event? What else was
occurring at that time?
Accuracy/reliability: Does this source confirm or contradict the story told by similar
sources? If so, what might that tell us about how a given event has been studied?
Note: Please do NOT answer these questions directly in a list-like format. Instead, your task is to
offer detailed and insightful analysis of what the source reveals, the perspective it offers, and the
ways in which its usefulness may limited. What questions can this source answer about the past,
and what questions can it not answer?
Keep in mind: It is not useful to argue simply that a source is “good” because it is “unbiased” or
“objective.” By definition, a primary source offers the perspective of the person or people who
created it; primary sources are, in essence, subjective. Instead, consider what the source you have
chosen is useful for. What can it reveal to historians in the 21st century about the historical
moment it captures?
Your submission should be in the form of an essay consisting of at least three well-constructed
• The introductory paragraph should provide necessary context or background about the
figure or event at the center of the source(s) you selected. It must end with a clear thesis
statement (your argument) about the significance of the source.
• The middle paragraph(s) should analyze the strengths and limitations of the source,
making clear what information or knowledge it can provide and how or why it is useful.
• Your last paragraph should conclude with a final assessment of the source. For example,
do you think the source you have selected is a useful tool for teaching and learning about
the events it portrays? If not, what other information or types of sources would help
create a more complete picture?
Requirements, Formatting, and Submission
Final essays must be double-spaced and at least 600 words in length. Please include a
Please use 1-inch margins, 12-point font, and page numbers. Break your essay into
Include your name, the date, and a useful title that reveals something about your
argument. (This should not be something generic like “Ida B. Wells” or “Lynching” and
should not simply be the name of the source you are examining, e.g. “Lynch Law in
Include a link and citation for the primary source. The citation must identify the creator
(if known), the title of the work, and the date. See the MLA citation guide for more info
on citing primary sources.
You are not required to use secondary sources (e.g. academic articles, books, etc.) for this
assignment. However, if you choose to do so, be sure to include a full citation for each
Be sure to proofread! Your final essay should represent your best work. Take special care
to spell names and places correctly. Proper nouns like “United States” or “African
American” must be capitalized.
This assignment is due to the Turnitin link on Blackboard by 11:59pm ET on Fri Jan 28.
If you anticipate difficulty in meeting this deadline, be sure to let me know in advance.
Late submissions will be penalized by one-third of a letter grade deduction each day until
submitted and will not be accepted more than two weeks after the deadline.
If you are having trouble getting started, consider the following:
“Ida B. Wells and Anti-Lynching Activism,” Digital Public Library of America,
“Jim Crow to the Depression Era (1878-1932),” ProQuest,
“The Great Migration,” Digital Public Library of America, https://dp.la/primary-sourcesets/the-great-migration.
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