Primary Source Analysis


Guidelines for the Primary Source Analysis

This semester we have read a number of assigned primary sources, sources produced during or close to the period of time they describe. These included a wide-range of types of sources: law codes, political histories, biographies, treaties, and short stories (e.g. Code of Hammurabi, Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War, Suetonius, Lives of the Caesars, Josephus, The Jewish War, Gregory of Tours, History of the Franks, and Machiavelli, The Prince, etc.)

For the essay, you will write a critical analysis of one of the assigned primary source documents. This assignment involves you engaging in the critical evaluation of a historical writing as a source of information about the past. Depending on the source and your preference, you can approach the analysis from one of two main perspectives and central questions.

Two main approaches/perspectives:

  1. You can investigate the author and the motives, goals, and arguments made by the author and the source. Why did the author write and what was the purpose of the writing?  In other words, what did the author intend to achieve through his or her writing? What was the author trying to say about his or her society?


  1. What does the primary source reveal about the society and the period of time in which it was produced, such as nature of political systems and political change, organization and purpose of family and marriage, religious beliefs and innovations, social relations and hierarchies, values, attitudes and assumptions, etc.

If you choose to address a source from this perspective, be sure to define your focus. Likewise, keep in mind that some of these sources were written decades after the events and people they describe, so you need to be aware of the historical context of the author.

This essay is not a research paper. However, you will need to engage in some limited research to effectively evaluate the source. In addition to using relevant information from the assigned podcasts, documentaries, and secondary sources, you will need to locate some additional information about either the author or the society and time in which the author lived. Secondary sources can include journal articles, encyclopedia entries, scholarly books, and reliable websites.

The essay will be due by 5/7, but may be submitted any time before 5/7.

Essay Requirements and Grading Criteria
1. The length will be between 1000 and 1200 words.
2. The introduction paragraph must contain a statement (thesis) that presents the reader with the main point or argument of the essay. The thesis should be an objective judgment based on the sources you are investigating and not a subjective opinion.
3. The essay and the presentation of ideas and evidence should be organized coherently.

  1. It must not quote more than 75 words.
    5. It should make at least five references to the primary source. You must provide page citations for these references. You may use parenthetical references for these citations.  For example, cite in the following manner, (Thucydides, 9). Use appropriate MLA citations for any non-assigned secondary sources.
    6. It should be free of spelling or grammatical mistakes.