Primary Source Worksheet: Analyzing Primary Sources

Stephanie Fink De Backer © 2015

Part I: Getting the basic details in order

Your name:
Source name:
Who created the source and why? Pay attention to information such as: dates (birth/death, or period of activity); social status / occupation; marital status; places of residence that may be pertinent to this source.
What type of source is this? For instance: a letter, a treatise, a law code, a papal bull, a chronicle, etc.
Was the information recorded during the event or time in question, immediately after the event or time in question, or after some lapse of time? How large a lapse of time?
Did the recorder produce the source for personal use, for one or more individuals, or for a large audience? Was the source meant to be public or private?
Was it created through a spur-of-the-moment act, a routine transaction, or a thoughtful, deliberate process?
Was the recorder a neutral party, or did the creator have opinions or interests that might have influenced what was recorded? What clues lead to your answer?
Did the recorder wish to inform or persuade others? Did the recorder have reasons to be honest or dishonest? (Check the use of words in the source. The words may tell you whether the recorder was trying to be objective or persuasive.)

Part II: Identifying the significance of a source with regard to a larger issue.

In what specific historical context does your source “make sense”? What necessary contextual information makes it intelligible? What is going on at the time? Place? etc. Avoid sweeping generalizations—what are the most important issues closely associated with this source?
Identify a larger issue or theme (even if in broad terms) that you think your source addresses.
How does your source provide insight into the time and place (context) relevant to the issue you have identified?

Be precise!

What are the strengths of using your source to address this issue? Be specific!
What are the limitations of using your source to address this issue? Be specific!
What elements of your source are most relevant to the issue you have identified? Note THREE SPECIFIC examples and WHY they are significant.

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