primary source analysis

Analysis of a Single Primary Source
Background:
Historians work to understand the past through written documents. This assignment asks you to
practice doing exactly that. The selection of possible primary sources for this paper include two
letters that express increasing global contact in the early modern world. This assignment allow
you to choose one of two primary sources: either King Manuel I of Portugal’s “The Letter Which
the King, Our Lord, Wrote to the King and Queen of Castile, His Kin, Concerning News of
India,” or King Nzinga Mbemba of Kongo’s “Appeal to the King of Portugal.” Both of these
primary sources are assigned readings in the course, from Week 7 and Week 10. Manuel I’s
letter and Nzinga Mbemba’s letter engage topics of social order and cultural values, ideal vs.
practiced forms of governments, economic exchange and intercultural contact, religious practices
and beliefs, and relationships between the ruler and the ruled, etc. Keep the topics in mind as
possible angles or lenses to direct your historical interpretation of the source.
Support for your interpretation should come from the primary sources themselves, supplemented
by your textbook, and class-notes; please make use of the editors’ introductory materials and the
information in Worlds Together, Worlds Apart. No additional, outside research is required or
recommended; NO Wikipedia or web sources. Any additional, outside references must be
clearly cited in the footnotes and bibliography.
Your paper must be original, in your own words, and reflect your understanding of the ways in
which primary and secondary sources are used to construct an interpretation of a particular
historical question, problem, or period.
Style and Formatting:
• Use 12-inch Times New Roman font, with 1-inch margins on all sides.
• Double-spaced, except for single-spaced Name, Course Number, and Title.
• Footnotes should be Times New Roman, 10-inch font, single-spaced.
• Your paper should be 1100-1300 words (excluding footnotes, headings, etc.)
• Upload to Moodle as a Word Doc ONLY.
• This paper should be written as a formal writing assignment. Avoid informal expressions,
including first and second person (I, we, you, etc.), contractions (ex. use cannot instead of
can’t), and colloquial expressions.
Paper Requirements:
1.) Select ONE of the two primary sources King Manuel I of Portugal’s “The Letter Which the
King, Our Lord, Wrote to the King and Queen of Castile, His Kin, Concerning News of India,”
or King Nzinga Mbemba of Kongo’s “Appeal to the King of Portugal,” which are supplied in pdf
HST 105 World History
Analysis of a Single Primary Source (20%)
Submit as Word Docs ONLY, via Moodle, by 11:59pm
2
form on Moodle, under Assignment Directions folder. Your goal is to make this excerpt the
focus of your paper, analysing it deeply and thoughtfully and placing it in its historical context.
2.) Write a 1100 to 1300-word argumentative essay, guided by a thesis statement, in which you
create an historical interpretation of the topic that demonstrates how close analysis of this
primary source adds to historical understanding of the some aspect of a particular society or
culture, or the nature of intercultural interactions in this period of history, as described in the
primary source itself.
3. This paper is not intended to be a research paper, but rather a close reading of the primary
source itself. Your chosen primary source will be the main focus of your paper and supply most
of the support for your interpretation, with your textbook and additional primary sources used for
additional support.
• Please make use of the editors’ introductory materials for each of the primary sources.
Further support for your interpretation of the past society should come from the primary
sources themselves, supplemented by your textbook, and class-notes.
• Each student’s paper is REQUIRED to use Worlds Together, Worlds Apart. You are
also encouraged to use the other relevant secondary source readings: including the
editor’s introductory remarks from the primary source anthologies, etc. If you reference
any of these assigned secondary source readings, each must be clearly cited in the
footnotes and bibliography.
• No additional, outside research is required or recommended, NO Wikipedia or
web sources. Any additional, outside references must be clearly cited in the footnotes
and bibliography.
4. You are allowed to use other assigned primary sources on our course Moodle site for
additional evidence to help build your understanding of the main primary source you have
chosen as well as build your understanding of the particular culture that being is describing. But
remember, the focus of the paper should remain on a single primary source you have chosen. If
you reference any of these assigned primary source readings, each must be clearly cited in the
footnotes and bibliography.
5.) For this paper, we will use Chicago-style footnotes. Cite all direct quotations, paraphrases,
and references to other scholars’ works, ideas, statistics, or interpretations. When in doubt,
cite! Include a complete Chicago-style Bibliography, separated into two separately alphabetized
lists, the first labelled “Primary Sources” and the second labelled “Secondary Sources.”
6.) Please structure your paper according to the guidelines below. Note the specific
expectations for the content in the Introduction paragraph, the Historical Context paragraph, and
the Primary Source Introduction paragraph, and Conclusion paragraph. The remaining body
paragraphs can be organized as fits your specific thesis and interpretation of your selected
source.
HST 105 World History
Analysis of a Single Primary Source (20%)
Submit as Word Docs ONLY, via Moodle, by 11:59pm
3
Primary Source Analysis Paper Structure
Ι. Introduction Paragraph:
In your introduction paragraph include the following:
1. Introduce the society/societies discussed in the paper, as well as the time period. Keep in
mind that the introduction only needs to provide the essential background needed to
understand the thesis; additional historical context will be supplied in the first body paragraph.
2. Identify the primary source or larger work from which the excerpt has been taken: indicate the
title (if it has one) and the author (if known), the time and place of its composition, its genre,
and its relation to a broader historical period.
3. Announce the specific theme or topic that engages both the primary source AND the society.
What is the angle or lens for examining this particular source? (Are you analysing to
understand more about nature, gender, economic, social, political power, military, cultural
values, etc. within those societies?)
4. Express the thesis: Your paper should be structured as a historical argument based on a single
primary source. An introduction paragraph for academic historical essays often concludes
with the thesis statement, in which your interpretation of the source is condensed to a single
sentence. (A thesis statement may address the author’s purpose in writing the source, may
make a claim about the relevance or significance of this source to its own society, etc. A
strong thesis statement answers not only “what?” but also suggests “how” and “why”).
5. Map out the paper: Some introduction paragraphs include a “road map” sentence, in which
you explain the main points (sub-arguments) of paper. This roadmap sentences sometimes
occurs just before or just after your thesis statement. Your introduction paragraph, as a whole,
should introduce the topic, providing the essential background information, lay out your
argument, and the significance of how it fits into the context of the topic being studied, and
how the paper will go about answering the question.
• Avoid including broad historical generalizations (“throughout all history,” or
“never in history”) or modern comparisons (especially comparisons to Nazis and
communism!).
II. Body of Paper:
In the body of your paper, include the following:
6. Include ONE paragraph in which you provide historical context for the societies that are
discussed in the primary source and for the society that produced the primary source. This
information should expand on, rather than repeat word-for-word, the historical context given
in the Introduction paragraph. Connect this historical context to the primary sources, and to
the particular focus, angle, or lens of analysis on which you have chosen to concentrate.
HST 105 World History
Analysis of a Single Primary Source (20%)
Submit as Word Docs ONLY, via Moodle, by 11:59pm
4
7. Include ONE paragraph in which you provide greater detail about the primary source itself.
Use the answers you created while completing the “Using Primary and Secondary Source
Handout” pdf and/or the 9 questions for primary sources handout. Summarize, in your own
words, the main ideas in this primary source. This summary should be no more than 2-4
sentences of your entire paper. Narrow at the end of the paragraph to the details that relate to
your specific focus or topic.
8. Follow these two paragraphs with SEVERAL body paragraphs that analyze the source closely.
You are trying to achieve an understanding or interpretation of the specific past societies and
cultures through the primary source. This is where you lay out the evidence and construct the
argument you are using to answer your interpretive question. You should not, therefore,
merely be reciting “facts,” you have found in your sources. Rather you should make specific
assertions about what those “facts” mean and then support them.
• Analyze the source closely. Be able to explain, as carefully as you can, the meaning
of all significant words and how they work together to convey the ideas the author
wishes to express. Consider the author’s aims, methods, and intended (original)
audience.
• Relate this primary source back to the historical period. What in particular does it tell
you about the time and place in which it was written? What is the historical
significance of the source? Be specific and base your interpretation on evidence
drawn from the primary source itself.
• Consider counter-arguments: How do particular details of the different sources fit
your larger interpretation of the topic? Do all the details of a particular primary source
fit this cross-cultural interpretation? If there are contradictory details, do you address
the counter-arguments? Do you need to adjust the argument for a better fit? (Don’t
pretend that counter-arguments or contradictory evidence does not exist if it, in fact,
does. Instead, address counter-interpretations or mis-fitting evidence in some way.)
• In these body paragraphs, you will also want to first introduce and then engage at
least one more primary source to better interpret, understand, or compare to BLAH.
Each time you introduce a new primary source in the paper, provide a critical
overview: what is the title or larger work from which the excerpt has been taken:
indicate the title (if it has one) and the author (if known), the time and place of its
composition, its genre, and its relation to a broader historical period.
• Note: your objective is not to compare this past society to a modern or historical
equivalent.
9. Topic Sentences: Keep in mind that each body paragraph should have a topic sentence that
introduces its specific focus, a sub-point of your larger historical interpretation, as laid out in
your thesis. You may want to use an outline as you write your paper, which can help to ensure
that your paper is well-constructed and coherent.
HST 105 World History

5
III. Conclusion:
In the conclusion paragraph of your paper
10. Your paper should conclude with a conclusion paragraph in which you recap your question
and argument, and show how your evidence supports the answers you have offered the
original historical problem you posed or historical question you asked.
IV. Bibliography:
Provide a complete bibliography of primary and secondary sources that you have paraphrased,
quoted, or consulted in the course of writing this paper.
11. Separate your bibliography into Primary Sources and Secondary Sources.
12. Alphabetize each list (Primary list and the Secondary list) by author’s last name. If the author
is unknown, begin with the title or the editor.
13. Give a Chicago-style bibliographic citation for each source.
14. See Chicago-Style Bibliography and Chicago-Style Footnotes hand-outs for citation
formatting as well as Sample Bibliography for models.
Hints for Getting Started: Reading & Initial Analysis of a Primary Source
1. The pdfs for these sources are available on Moodle, in the Assignment Directions folder.
2. Choose ONE of the three primary sources. Read and re-read it, using the process
delineated in the “Using Primary and Secondary Source Handout” pdf as well as the 9 Questions
for Primary Sources to understand the primary source excerpt. (Your goal, however, is to write a
coherent essay, NOT a list of answers to these questions.) Consider its details, ideas, and
language, etc. Keep in mind that this excerpt source is a product of a very specific society, at a
specific point in time, with its own religious beliefs, economic system, rules of government,
customs of social interaction, gender roles, etc.
3. Develop interpretive question(s) about source: what types of information does it
convey? What types of questions about the society does it raise, or can it answer? You will
probably notice lots of different types of details from this source; select a focus for the paper.
These big-picture questions should lead you to focus your analysis and to create your thesis
statement. You should not need to include this question or ask it directly in your paper. Instead,
the entire paper—and particularly your thesis statement—should function as an answer to this
implicit interpretive question. (Keep in mind that questions that have a “how?” or especially
“why?” component will generally create better research questions than yes or no questions or
“what?” questions because they will require interpretation of the existing evident.)
4. You may want to use an outline as you write your paper, which can help to ensure that
your paper is well-structured and coherent.

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