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Writing Assignment Instructions

Over the course of this semester, we have been studying the histories of many different groups and civilizations of peoples. For example, the French, British, Germans, Japanese, Muslims, Chinese, and Americans, to name but a small handful.

For this writing assignment, students will analyze one primary source document that is related to one of the groups of people you have studied in this course: World History from the Ancient World to the Renaissance.


The obvious question: What is a primary source


A primary source is a first-hand account, written at the time of a specific historical event; they are created by someone who personally witnessed that historical event. Thus, primary sources may include any of the following:

newspaper articles


diaries, memoirs

court cases, legal documents


diplomatic dispatches

eye-witness accounts

government documents

artistic works (photographs, paintings, sculptures, films)

artifacts (clothing, pottery, jewelry

The assignment

Reading and analyzing primary sources can be challenging, in large part because these are documents written a very, very long time ago. In order to analyze a primary source you will need information about (1) the document itself and (2) the time period from which it comes.

I suggest that you take the following steps:

Choose a primary source from the selections provided on Canvas

. You will find a list of documents (sneakily labeled as “Primary Source Documents”) under the “WRITING ASSIGNMENT” module.

First, before doing anything else, read the actual document

. I would advise reading the whole document in its entirety (to get a sense of what is happening) and then doing a second, closer reading where you may want to write a few notes. By doing this you will build up a picture of the value of the document in a historical issue and begin to build a fuller understanding.

Go to your course textbook and read (or re-read) the chapter that covers the time period from which the document is based

. It is always advisable to do some broader reading, in order to understand (1) the specific historical context and (2) what factors and conditions might have influenced the author.

For each document

, following the guidelines listed below.


. The actual instructions for the assignment below are in black.

The commentary in red italics are explanatory, to provide clarification and food for thought


Identify the Author

The author of the source

. Who is the author of the source? What do you know about the author? If possible, determine the sex, religion, race, class, age, occupation, location and political beliefs of the author.

It is important to understand the author of the document, and his/her role in events, because the document conveys only that person’s version of events or opinions. Indeed, bear in mind that


historical documents contain some sort of bias, depending on their source.

The role of the author of the source

. What is the author’s role in this society? In this historical context?

In other words, is the author of the source a political leader, a military leader, an eyewitness, a participant, etc.?

Identify the Source

Place and Time



was the source produced?


was the source produced? How might these affect the meaning of the source?

The “Time and Place” rule dictates that the closer the author is to the historical event he/she is describing — the more reliable the source


In other words, a firsthand account of a riot by a participant in that riot is a more reliable source than someone who heard about the riot and wrote an account of it 50 years after it occurred


The message/argument of the source

. What are the main points being made in this document? What is the author’s primary message or argument?

The purpose of the source

. Why was this source produced? What was the author’s message or argument? Do you think the message of point was clear cut and explicit? Or do you think there may be implicit messages as well? Do you think the author of the source had a particular agenda or bias?

Contextualize and Evaluate the Source

Historical understanding

. What does the document contribute to our understanding about (1) the society/people and (2) this specific historical period?

Historical context


What do you know about the specific historical context in which this source was generated? What were the specific circumstances under which this source was created?

In other words, what is going on in the world, the country, the region, or the locality when this source was created?

The Format

Essays should be

two pages

; two (2) double-spaced, typewritten pages. And let me emphasize: the number “two” is not a flexible unit of measure. If your review is over two pages, I will read the first two pages.

All essays


be submitted as




– The font must be reasonable (Times New Roman, Cambria, Arial). The font must be reasonable in size [10, 11, or 12 point].

All pages must have one-inch margins; no quadruple spacing.

Similar to the rules of the Discussion Forum, correct spelling and grammar are mandatory. The following offenses are absolutely inexcusable in formal writing, particularly for university students, and will result in a

one-point penalty

for each occurrence:


Contractions, except in a direct quote.

Incorrect capitalization.

The use of personal pronouns or the use of first person. Do not use “you”, “we”, “ours”, “us.” Instead, write in the third person.

Click here for documents related to the

Seventeenth Century

(Links to an external site.)


Click here for documents related to the

Eighteenth Century

(Links to an external site.)


Click here for documents related to the

Nineteenth Century

(Links to an external site.)


Click here for documents related to the

Twentieth Century

(Links to an external site.)


Click here for documents related to the

First World War

(Links to an external site.)


Click here for documents related to the

Second World War

(Links to an external site.)


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