Primary Source Analysis
Primary Source AnalysisInstructions and Grading RubricPrimary sources are the key tools a historian has at his or her disposal. Without primary evidence that is to say, evidence that is contemporary to the time period under investigation the historian has no means of attempting to reconstruct what happened in the past. For this reason, assessment of your ability to interpret primary source material forms an important part of this course (and other courses you will take at UIS).When analyzing primary sources, it is critical to remember that your source will have its strengths and its weaknesses. A pamphlet denouncing the British governments Stamp Act of 1765 might be useful in explaining a number of question how the author felt about taxation policy, for example, or why there were increasing tensions between Britain and America at the start of the American Revolution. It would not be at all useful if you were hoping to write about the uses agricultural technology in colonial Virginia. Your analysis, therefore, should indicate some of the questions that this source would help answer.It is also important to remember that the authors or creators of any source have their own biases. It is not enough simply to argue that a source is biased. All sources are biased you need to explain what biases are inherent in the source, and how the historian should account for them. Lets go back to the (hypothetical) Stamp Act pamphlet. Who is the author? Where did he or she come from? When is he or she writing it? What is he or she trying to achieve by writing the pamphlet? Answering these sorts of questions will give you a full picture of the author of the source, and will help make you aware of what biases are present in the source. Your analysis, therefore, needs to show awareness of context knowledge of the author, the time period, and the audience will be crucial in achieving strong marks in your assignment.You must also demonstrate the significance of the source you are analyzing. Remember, one source alone does not prove anything definitively. (Journalists are told not to report anything unless they have two independent sources confirming a piece of information). Do not make bold, general statements such as this pamphlet demonstrates that all Americans wanted to burn the King of England as soon as they heard news of the Stamp Act. Instead, explain how the pamphlet criticizes the Stamp Act, and then use your wider contextual knowledge to expand further. Can the author be taken seriously? Where might he or she be exaggerating? Is his or her argument too convenient in places? History is the art of critical examination of the past you will need to have a certain level of cynicism to succeed in this course.Finally, you should use your knowledge of the broader context of the course to explain why understanding the source is valuable to the historian. Does this source agree with or challenge the interpretations of historians you have read for the course? What sort of historical questions does this source begin to help answer? In what ways does it complicate understandings of the past? This last section will be particularly important in determining your grade. You need to understand the content and context of the source in great detail. But that is only part of the task. You must be able to move beyond a mere description of the source, and show analytical skill in explaining how and why it is important to the historian.In summary, you will find it helpful to think of the following structure as you write your assignment: Paragraph One Context. What is the source about? Who is the author? Why are they writing it? Paragraph Two Content. What is the specific argument of the source? What does it tell us about the historical event or situation it refers to?