Primary Source Analysis

Primary Source Analysis Projects


  • Analyze primary source material form the l960s with respect to issues of gender, race, class or other topics
  • Stake out a clearly articulated position supported by relevant evidence
  • Locate both print and online primary sources to support the position
  • Develop an accurate bibliography
  • Identify cultural and ideological assumptions in a source
  • Write a focused analytical essay supported by primary source evidence

Essay Assignment:
Write a 4-5 page essay analyzing primary sources on a cultural artifact you noticed in Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried. The sources will date from the 1960s. The primary source analysis will involve description/summary, analysis/interpretation, and support for a thesis drawn from the words and images of the primary sources. You will present your findings in a 3-5 minute oral presentation.

Sources: You will locate a series (at least 3) of primary sources related to a cultural artifact in The Things They Carried. These sources can include advertisements, newspapers, magazine articles, song lyrics, photographs, first-person interviews, speeches, letters, etc. For example, you may choose the pantyhose that one of the character's wears around his neck for good luck, finding 1960s advertisments for pantyhose.

Analysis: You will need to analyze the primary sources. You will seek to understand something about 1960s by examining the cultural assumptions of your sources. Ask why they are saying what they are saying and how they are saying it. What messages, explicit or implicit, about family, class, gender, race, economics, education, etc do these sources communicate? What implicit messages about cultural values and/or attitudes do these sources communicate?

  • Can uou tell who the primary audience for your sources might be? How can you tell? Are they all written for the same audience? What assumptions do your sources make about the audience? What does it assume this audience cares about, wants, feels, etc.
  • What emotions does the source inspire?
  • What is the overall message of the sources?
  • Do these sources repeat any ideas or themes?
  • Do your primary sources invoke similar images, or contrasting images? What images do these sources together suggest to you?
  • What do the sources tell you about the culture and values of the 1960s?
  • How would a contemporary articles or ads etc on this topic use different tactics?

Thesis: Your thesis will be an interpretation of primary sources, and you will support your interpretation with details from the sources itself. The thesis will have to be small enough to thoroughly support in just 4 pages.

Workshop: If you’re paper is scheduled for workshop and you absent or aren’t prepared for workshop with 19 copies of your paper, you will loose a letter grade on the essay assignment. I will make the copies for you, but I need 24 hours and a signature for the copy center.
Important due dates:

Grading Criteria for Comparative Analysis
A passing essay must:

  • Have a focused controlling thesis about the primary sources
  • Include 4 primary sources (not from textbook or in-class readings) with photocopies
  • Have a focused controlling theme that involves substantial rather than superficial analysis
  • Present credible, relevant, and fully explained evidence in support of this theme
  • Contain adequate paraphrases of the text in the primary sources (i.e. in your own words).
  • Quote accurately (word for word).
  • Show substantial difference between the first and second draft
  • Utilize a voice and tone appropriate for an academic audience.

A passing essay must:

  • Have an introduction that adequately introduces the essay.
  • Have a conclusion that adequately concludes the essay.
  • Be, as a whole, logically organized
  • Make its structure clear to the reader through transitions.
  • Contain paragraphs that are logically organized internally.
  • Contain paragraphs whose organization is made clear to the reader through transitions.
  • Avoid repetition.

Short Style Checklist:

  • Is your writing clean stylistically? Do you use strong verbs and active voice? Are sentences concise and clear? Have you combined sentences as needed to create sentence variety?
  • Are filler sentences eliminated?
  • Are your sentences grammatically correct? Remember not to use “this” or “that” as a pronoun and to use a comma with an introductory phrase. Also remember to use a comma and a conjunction to connect two independent phrases (phrases that can stand alone as sentences).
  • Is the paper typed in Times Roman 12 inch font? Is it double spaced with one inch margins?
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