The purpose of this primary source analysis assignment it to allow students to learn, practice, and highlight their skills in original historical interpretation.
Choose a primary source from the Colonial America Era, which includes the American Revolution (between the years 1492 and 1787).
Your essay should resemble brief pieces or vignettes you would read in scholarly articles and historical monographs that we will examine in the second assignment.
Your essay should never simply describe what happens in the primary document. A simple summary is insufficient as an historical interpretation of the document.
There are several ways to interpret a primary source, and a multitude of ways to be creative in the process.
In some instances, this might involve telling a story; in other cases it might involve a commentary on the language employed in the document; and in other cases that interpretation might emerge from an attempt to assess motivation, intent, or purpose.
In short, historians are trying to discover both the meaning and the significance of a primary source. Since that evidence usually consists of written documents, your document analysis should seek to find a balance between exposing meaning and significance.
By meaning, you are trying to reconstitute what that document might have meant (or how it might have been understood) by the historical actors in that era. By significance, you are attempting to relate how that evidence contributes to a particular interpretation of past.
Therefore, a good document analysis essay focuses upon both the text itself (with attention to the specifics and nuances of language used) and the context (the broader picture of the history of that period that informs the document).
It is this dual approach that separates the methods of historians from those of other disciplines, such as literary criticism or positivist social science (sociology or political science).
You should draw upon the assigned readings and lectures to provide the necessary context for the document they are analyzing. Your essay should be 3-4 pages long (900-1,200 words). You will find suitable primary documents in the first six chapters of U.S. History
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