Primary Source Analysis (PSA):
Two times during the semester (once in the first half of the semester, and once in
the second half), each student will submit a 500- to 750-word Primary Source
Analysis (PSA) that discusses one of the sets of Primary Sources, which are
assigned weekly readings that are posted in CougarView as PDF files. Each PSA
should be a thoughtful response to the reading material, and should demonstrate a
careful, critical consideration of the sources.
Assignment Preparation: Reading & Writing
You will choose which documents you want to write about for your Primary
Source Analyses. Since each set of Primary Sources focuses on distinct historical
topics and themes, a good first step is to look over all the topics and sources
assigned for each week through the end of the semester, in order to determine
which selections may be of interest to you. See the listing of readings in the
syllabus, where the topic and authors/documents featured in each week’s selection
As you begin working with primary source documents, be sure to review the file
entitled “A Guide to Reading and Interpreting Documents and Images,” which is
posted in CougarView. The authors of this short essay highlight five aspects that
should be considered when analyzing any historical primary source: Context,
Thesis, Perspective, Audience, and Significance. These five factors may not all
seem equally significant as you analyze a particular source, and that is normal. For
one source the intended audience for the document may seem to strongly influence
what the author wrote and how s/he wrote it; for another source, the historical
context in which the document was produced may be more noteworthy An
effective analysis will strive to highlight the most significant aspects of each
It is important in your PSA that you take an analytical approach to the sources,
rather than merely descriptive. This means that you need to focus
on explaining the significance of what the historical sources tell us, as opposed to
simply repeating what happened or what was stated in the documents. If you just
submit a summary of the source material, you will not do well on the assignment.
You can develop your own approach to discussing the significance of the sources,
or if you prefer you can structure your commentary as a response to one or more of
the questions that the editor includes with each set of sources. However, your
source analysis should not be a series of short answers to the various questions
posed by the editor; rather, it needs to be a cohesive narrative that considers those
questions in the context of a multi-paragraph essay.
Formatting and Organization
Your PSA must be typed and double-spaced as a document in a standard 12-point
font (such as Times New Roman) with one-inch margins. 750 words of double-
spaced text is approximately three pages. Your paper may go over that amount
slightly if necessary; but if it is less than 500 words, you will not receive full
The key to writing a good essay is to organize your thoughts and arguments, and
separate paragraphs are the building blocks of a well-organized essay. In an
assignment of this length, you should plan to write three to five paragraphs
(including an Introduction, the Body paragraphs that present your main points, and
a Conclusion). Pay close attention to construction of the first, topic sentence of
each paragraph: make sure it pertains directly to what follows in that paragraph.
A good approach to your PSA may be to focus most of your discussion on two or
three of the selections in the set of Primary Sources you choose to analyze. Look
for points of comparison and contrast between the different selections, but also try
to connect your analysis with any overarching theme(s) featured in that week’s
sources. NOTE: You may find that it is beneficial for your analysis to refer to
more than two of the selections, but you are certainly not expected to discuss all of
the different sources in the chapter; in fact, in a two- to three-page analysis you
probably don’t have sufficient space to do so effectively.
(And you definitely should not write a little about each source just for the purpose
of producing the necessary word count.)
While it is important to be mindful of analysis and organization, try to remember
when writing that you are not just checking off boxes to make sure you include all
the necessary material. Writing well is an art form: the goal is to craft a short
statement on this subject that is readable and interesting, as well as informative.
NOTE: If you use the exact wording (or very similar) from the readings (or any
other source), without marking it as such by using quotation marks and a proper
citation of the source, this constitutes plagiarism. A first offense will result in a
grade of zero on the assignment, and a warning; a second offense will result in a
grade of F for the class, and your misconduct will be reported. Note that all
students’ PSA submissions will be screened automatically through Turnitin.com.
Notes Regarding the Primary Source Readings:
The Primary Sources posted in CougarView as assigned readings for this class are
selections scanned from different books that I have used for World History classes
in the past, which are now unfortunately out of print. So they look somewhat
different from each other, and present their material differently.
In my course’s current form, Primary Sources 1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 9, 10, & 11 are from
Robert Strayer, Ways of the World (2nd Edition). Each scanned set of sources has
introductory material and questions for each document, as well as broader,
comparative questions at the end. Most are written documents, but three chapters
(4, 5, & 9) focus on visual sources. If you are uncertain about how to approach this
kind of writing assignment, you may find that these sources from Strayer offer
more suggestions, in terms of what to look for and what questions to ask as you
analyze the sources.
Primary Sources 2, 8, & 12 are from Kevin Reilly, Worlds of History (2nd Edition).
These scans in some cases were assembled from different chapters or sections of
Reilly’s book, so the appearance is a bit rougher than the selections from Strayer.
Reilly also includes a few secondary sources in his readings (and, in one week’s
assignment, even works of fiction). But Reilly’s selections, like Strayer’s, each
begin with a brief introduction by the editor where he presents questions you
should consider while reading the source. One or more of these questions may
help you determine the way you want to approach your analysis of the sources.
The editors of these documents have included some explanatory footnotes that will
help you understand some of the unfamiliar words. (Of course, when you
encounter an unfamiliar word that is not defined by the editor, I hope you will look
You will also notice that within these documents there are sometimes words
enclosed in square brackets, [like so]. These are used when the editor has inserted
his own words into the document for purposes of clarification, or to improve
readability. It is important to remember that most of these documents were
produced in times and places very different from our own, and have in many cases
been translated from languages other than English. As historians, we often have
to work a bit to understand the unfamiliar phrases and ideas present in these kinds
of sources, as well as the different outlook or mindsets of the people who wrote
Each Primary Source Analysis is worth 10 percent of your final grade, and will be
assigned a point score based on the following grading scale:
* 9—10 = Excellent; well-written, analytical approach with direct reference to
* 7.5—8.9 = Good; well-written but lacking some analysis and/or reference to
* 6.0—7.4 = Fair; some flawed writing and/or little analysis and/or insufficient
attention to sources
* ≤ 6.0 = Poor; poorly written and/or sources are not discussed
When & How to Submit your Assignments:
There are two deadlines for Primary Source Analyses (PSAs). For each of the
PSAs, you will need to choose one of the sets of Primary Sources posted in
CougarView which correspond to that particular due date.
You will submit each of your two PSAs in an online dropbox, found by selecting
“Assignments” which is under the Assessments tab in CougarView. Late
submissions will not be accepted. Make a note of the following deadlines to avoid
PSA #1: The first PSA is due by Oct. 9th and should be based on ONE of the first
six Primary Sources files (i.e., 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, or 6).
PSA #2: The second PSA is due by November 22nd and should be based on ONE
of the last six Primary Sources files (i.e., 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, or 12).
IMPORTANT: DO NOT write about material from two different PDFs in a
single PSA. The sources contained within each PDF are related to each other, so
the purpose of the assignment is to discuss and compare those sources which have
this connection. Select just one PDF to discuss in each of your PSA assignments.
ALSO IMPORTANT: You do not have to wait until the deadline date to turn in
these assignments; on the contrary, you are strongly encouraged to complete and
submit them at the earliest opportunity. Note that the different assignments for this
class (PSA and VDA) share the same due dates, so if you wait until the last minute
to complete them both, you will put yourself in a bind. If some material from a
particular week’s reading catches your interest, you would be wise to complete the
Primary Source Analysis while the material is fresh in your mind. However,
please DO NOT jump ahead in the syllabus and submit a PSA that addresses
material from a week that we have not yet reached in the syllabus.