Primary Source Analysis

Primary Source Analysis

TOPIC: ‘After Slavery: The Convict Leasing System’


OK, so what is a primary source? It can be defined as anything created by someone involved in an event, about the event. For example, it could be a diary or a picture. These are the raw bits of history and we use them to understand the people and events under study. Here are resources to help you prepare for this assignment:


What Are Primary Sources?

  •         Library of Congress: Teaching with Primary Sources (video and transcript) – definition of primary and secondary sources and why use primary sources
  •         Library of Congress: Why Use Primary Sources

Finding Primary Sources

  • Library of Congress: Finding Primary Sources
  • National Archives: Finding Primary Sources

How to Cite Primary Sources

  •         Library of Congress: Citing Primary Sources – Chicago style

How do I Analyze Primary Sources?

  • Library of Congress: Analyzing a Primary Source (video and transcript)
  •         National Archives: Primary Source Analysis Worksheets – The National Archives has created analysis worksheets to help you work with primary sources. Copies of these worksheets are provided as attachments in the Primary Source Analysis assignment and also in Course Resources (under Content) The worksheets consist of a combination of checklists and short-answer questions that will help you focus on the most important elements of many different types of historical documents. You will need the worksheets to complete the Primary Source Analysis assignment.


Primary Source Analysis Instructions

Find two (2) primary sources (any type for which there is an analysis worksheet) on your chosen topic. There are a number of web sites such as those of the Library of Congress and the National Archives that contain digitized copies of primary sources that you may use. Please use copies of the primary source – not a transcription – you want to see it as it looked when created/used.

For each primary source you find, create a separate entry that includes all of the following information:

  • The type of primary source (e.g. written document, cartoon, photograph, and so on).
  • Complete the worksheet in detail.
  • Write a narrative analysis of the primary source, using the information you collected on the worksheet
  • Explain how the item pertains to your topic
  • Create a bibliographic entry (as you would include it in your bibliography) for the primary source – in Chicago Humanities style
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