History homework help

ANALYSING PRIMARY DOCUMENTS

When scholars study a historical issue they often survey the works of colleagues to gain information on a particular subject they are exploring. This type of source is named a secondary source. They provide a researcher with background information and explore a broader historical context than a single document or series of documents can offer. They represent synthesis, analysis and interpretation of documents. They provide a scholarly interpretation of issues and events from a vantage point removed from the topic being studied. The use of secondary scholarly sources is important, especially for the undergraduate student who does not have access to archives and who lacks an in depth knowledge of the topic he/she is researching. Nevertheless even undergraduate students should pursue historical understanding through evidence produced by people directly involved in the topic, event or activity being investigated. Sources produced by those who directly experienced or witnessed a historical event are called primary sources.  Primary sources are not just letters and government records. They can include a wide range of materials including diaries, newspapers, census data, works of art, films, recording of oral interviews, material objects and a host of other materials. They all present unique challenges as different types of primary sources demand the student ask different questions.  A historian must examine primary evidence to come to some kind of interpretation of its meaning and its contribution to insight into the past.

While primary documents were produced by participants and observers of a particular series of events they must be interpreted and analyzed to place them in their respective historical contexts . One cannot merely accept them at face value as literal truth. People lie, memories fade, or a witness is misinformed. The point a historian must consider when analyzing a historical document relates to the nature of the specific historical medium under consideration.  For example when viewing visual document such as a painting or film one will want to think about how characters etc are depicted and what does it imply about the creator’s attitude towards the subject? How is the picture composed? Are symbols incorporated into the image that would have had meaning to a viewer in the creator’s time? With letters and other written materials one may want to consider the use of adjectives etc to describe a person or events- is the subject labeled a ‘terrorist’ or a ‘freedom fighter’? Whether a primary source is visual or written one should consider the background of the creator. An observation of the conditions of landless farm workers might be interpreted differently if the author is a landed aristocrat than if she was a poor cottager. Similarly a written description of Edwardian women working in a factory might be shaped by the writer’s background as a female suffragette or a male Conservative member of parliament. When analyzing a primary one source one wants to think about who is the intended audience? For example a painting commissioned by a powerful politician anxious to ‘advertise’ his noble, heroic character would demonstrate a certain point of view or bias. It is important therefore to achieve some sort of insight into the creator’s bias and the reasons for it. Does the document challenge other similar accounts? Does it include any inconsistencies or contradictions? One should consider when a document was produced. A description of combat written in the heat of battle would be influenced by that circumstance in a different way than the same person writing his memoirs years after the event.

Finally, it is important for an analysis of a primary source to be framed in the broader context of its time. What was happening at the time that could have influenced the historical witness or actor’s depiction of contemporary events? Does the document challenge other primary or secondary scholarly accounts? If it does represent a challenge to the historical consensus what significance is it for understanding the ongoing historical debate about the topic being studied?  Primary documents and analysis of them is critical for understanding the beliefs, actions and experiences of actors in our historical past.

THE STRUCTURE OF THE DOCUMENT ANALYSIS PAPER 

When writing a document analysis one should produce a paper with a clear structure that lays out one’s interpretive analysis in a clear fashion. To this end it is recommended that the paper should adhere to a distinct structural framework. The paper should begin with an introductory paragraph that introduces the document and lays out the writer’s theory or thesis regarding its significance. The introductory paragraph should include the following components – first it should begin with a topic sentence. A topic sentence is what your paper is about. Next it should include a thesis statement. A thesis statement is a fancy way of saying the theory your paper is trying to prove. It is a declaration of the conclusions you have reached. The thesis is the theory that the rest of your paper will endeavor to prove.  Finally the introductory paragraph should include one or two sentences conveying an idea of the paper’s organizational structure.

The body of the analysis essay has two components. The first part should focus on describing the broader historical context in which the document was created.  One should describe the circumstances in which the document was created. For example maybe an artist was commissioned to produce a painting celebrating a great military victory. One should also discuss the broader historical context as it relates to the document being discussed. Our artist producing a painting to celebrate a great military victory might have been asked to do so at a time of some national crisis. It should briefly describe the document.

The next section of the paper should focus on a close analysis of the document. This section should deconstruct the document by exploring issues such as use of language and imagery that communicates what the creator of the primary source intended his or her audience to feel.  A case in point is a propaganda poster that seeks to create a feeling of enmity towards an enemy. How does the creator of the document achieve a certain result? What is its significance for understanding the historical theme it relates to?

The final paragraph or two should provide the reader with a conclusion that pulls together the discussion of the content and analysis of the document for understanding its significance in a broader historical context. It demonstrates how your discussion of the context and analysis of the document prove your thesis. Remember that this assignment ultimately is an exercise in persuasion of your interpretation of the significance of a historical document.  The word length of this assignment should be in the 700 word range.

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