This paper is on Primary source analysis from American Yawp. Consider who wrote your source, why was it written, who was the intended audience, what can we learn from it?
Primary source analysis from American Yawp
Consider who wrote your source, why was it written, who was the intended audience, what can we learn from it? 1-2 pages
Primary sources are the raw materials of history:
written accounts, physical objects, and visual material allow historians to build narratives and construct arguments.
Letters, diaries, written publications, laws, artwork, buildings, skeletal remains, environmental data, and even oral histories can all provide the first-hand evidence that historians need to make convincing arguments about the past and to properly evaluate the historical arguments made by others. Historians work primary sources into secondary and even tertiary sources: the books and textbooks assigned to students. They all rely, one way or another, on primary sources.
Students of history must know how to analyze and critically evaluate primary sources, for primary sources can distort as much as they reveal. The voice of slaves, for instance, can be drown out by the letters and journals of slaveholders.
We can produce more honest histories by interrogating our sources, asking questions such as, Who created this source? Who was their audience? How might their beliefs and perspectives have influenced their understanding? In the case of slavery, for instance, a critical eye is often need to read between the lines and uncover forgotten histories hidden within the materials available to us. Additionally, historians must make the most of the sources they have.
But while some eras and some topics lack abundant primary sources, others have almost too many, often more than any single historian can read and analyze. Under such conditions it can be tempting to cherry pick sources and create a narrative of one’s own choosing, but good historians must read widely and maintain an open but critical mind to discover patterns and produce historical insights.