Primary and Secondary Source Comparison and Analysis

One of the most important skills of historians is the ability to evaluate and analyze primary and secondary sources for this course and future courses. This assignment focuses on this skill as you research and compose a Compare and Contrast Report on selected primary and secondary resources. Read the description in the definitions section below carefully. The questions it contains are the ones you must answer to write your report (see the instructions on the next tab page).

A primary source is a first-hand account of a person, event, or idea. Primary sources provide the “evidence” from which historians construct their vision of the past.
A secondary source is a source constructed by historians and others by piecing together primary sources. A primary source does not mean a better resource – it simply refers to a creation contemporary to the events being examined.
Analyzing a document means asking the “five Ws” questions – Who? What? Where? When? Why?
Evaluating a source involves using the answers from your analysis to explain the document’s significance to the history of the period. When evaluating primary and secondary sources you should answer the following questions:

Who was the author and who was the audience?
What type of document is it? What is the topic (subject) and author’s thesis? What was the purpose of the document or motive for writing it? Does the writer have an obvious bias?
Where was the document written?  What about the setting is important for understanding the author’s motivation and purpose?
When was the document written and what was its effect on history? What was the historical context for the document? (i.e., what was going on at the time that might have influenced the author’s opinions?) If it is a secondary source, how did the source affect your view of the topic or event?
Why was the document written? The purpose may be stated in the document itself or it may be inferred by reading between the lines. Is the document credible (believable); why or why not?


Follow the steps listed in the three sections below to complete this assignment. See the Course Schedule and Course Rubrics pages for due dates and grading details for this assignment
Primary Source

Select one of the sources on the Primary Source List tab page.
Read the source material for at least 30 minutes and watch the associated video clip (you won’t evaluate the video; it is only provided to help clarify the topic of your source).
Analyze the selected primary source using the 5 Ws – Who? What? Where? When? Why? – outlined in the Definitions section of this assignment’s Introduction. Complete the appropriate sections of the P/S Worksheet.

Secondary Source

Locate a secondary source (book, article, essay, etc.) that comments on the issue or event in your primary source. For example, if your primary source is Darwin’s writing on On the Origin of the Species, you would look for a secondary source that comments on Darwin’s ideas (either positively or negatively). NOTE: Lecture readings or Wikipedia are not acceptable secondary sources for this assignment.
Read the secondary source material (i.e., research it) for at least 30 minutes.
Analyze the source using the 5 Ws – Who? What? Where? When? Why? Complete the appropriate sections of the P/S Worksheet for the secondary source.


Evaluate your sources as outlined in the Introduction to this assignment. Use your completed worksheet to help you craft your essay.
Write a properly formatted, double-spaced analysis and comparison that answers the five W’s for each of your sources. (See the example in Module 4’s Research Assignment section.)
Summarize what you learned about the event from both the primary and secondary sources that you selected. Make sure you compare both the sources and the source types in this paragraph.
Reference your sources with a bibliography at the end of your evaluation for all primary sources, secondary sources and video (if applicable). Use MLA, APA or Chicago style formatting for your sources.
Submit your completed worksheet and essay to the assignment folder by the scheduled due date.

See the Course Schedule in the Syllabus module and the course rubrics (under Tools in the upper menu) for due dates and grading criteria for this assignment.

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