As is specified in the syllabus, and as we discussed on the first day of class, your main project for the quarter is an approximately 10 page term paper based on an assigned primary source. Read the following directions carefully to understand the assignment fully.
Your assignment is anchored around a “close reading” of your source. A “close reading” is a slow and careful reading of the primary texts in which you explicate or explain the text and its significance. You’ve already read your text at least once, but a single reading will not be enough. A “close reading” requires numerous careful readings. The explanation of the text is a process which includes asking questions and answering them with information contained in the text and in the secondary source material you will use to contextualize it.
Your paper must argue a thesis that is derived from your reading of your primary source, but in so doing, you will need to identify and describe your source, analyze it, and contextualize it within the historical background that shaped it.
Just as you did with your primary source analysis paper, start by reading the document again, carefully and thoughtfully. This is an exercise in thinking as much as in reading and writing. Use the same questions you used to write the primary source analysis paper (available on Canvas), or keep in mind the following basic questions as you read and think:
What does the text say? Go slowly, line by line. Identify the main themes/issues/points/ideas
mentioned in the text.
What does the text mean? Think more deeply about the implications of those ideas, issues,
points, themes. What is the author’s intention, agenda, or bias?
What is the tone of the text? Is it a didactic text, is it a trial…? Is the author expressing and sense
of emotion such as anger or fear? Is it satirical or ironic? Is there a sense of urgency?
Does the text contain images or illustrations? Describe and analyze them. What is the
relationship between image and text? Include the illustrations in your final paper, so that I know
what you are talking about.
How does this text relate more widely to the society which helped shape its creation? I.e., what is
the historical context, what are the wider historical issues which connect to your text? Does your
text represent mainstream ideas, or challenge them?
What parts of the community/society, its beliefs, customs, or important historical events (or
memories) are reflected in the text? What basic assumptions—religious, social, political, racial, sexual, etc.-underpin the work?
Ideally, your thesis will emerge out of this process. As you argue your thesis, you’ll need to contextualize your source using relevant secondary literature – ideally, you’ve already pinpointed some in your annotated bibliography. But as you may have found doing the annotated bibliography, finding just the right secondary materials can be tricky, and you may need additional research and trips to the library in order to locate the materials you need. Be sure that your secondary sources
cover the same period as the primary source you are analyzing. In other words, if your document is dated in the late sixteenth century, do not rely on secondary source that discuss similar phenomena in the twelfth century, or in the nineteenth century. If you do use a secondary source covering a different time period, you must make that explicit in your discussion. Use recent historical scholarship whenever possible. The discipline of history has come a long way since 1914, so consult secondary literature from the 1990s, 2000s, and beyond when it is available. Be aware that if you use older secondary literature, the findings could be dated and surpassed by more recent scholarship. Consult the databases listed on the annotated bibliography assignment, and think strategically.
When you’ve read your source carefully and done the necessary secondary research, write up your findings. Your paper must
describe the source in detail. You must provide enough information, so that an intelligent reader
who has not read the primary sources can understand your paper.
critique and analyze the source
argue a thesis grounded in your reading of the source
place the source in a larger historical context and explain it by drawing on secondary literature.
cite all your sources with in footnotes and in a bibliography (don’t worry too much about the
formatting at this point. Just get it rolling.)
Keep in mind that these points do not represent some kind of idealized order, and you aren’t expected to all of these things in just this layout. You may want to put you thesis first, for example, and then describe your source—or not. It depends on how you want to write the paper; there is no single formula