Restored Republic to the Post-Revolutionary Period in Mexican history
You must contextualize the document you have chosen within the framework of the course. This essay should not be like a book review or simply be a summary of the document, but rather should analyze the text as part of one of the main topics of the course. The purpose of the primary source assignment is for you to practice critically reading and analyzing primary source documents and putting them into larger context. Such a skill is absolutely central to the work of historians and is something from which everyone can benefit.
In your essay, identify the document with specific topics we have touched on in the course and analyze its importance and impact in relation to these topics. Be sure to place the document into its historical context. What was going on at the time and in the location this source was written? What important themes, trends, concepts, or consequences does it illustrate? What do we know from examining this source that we didn’t know or understand before encountering it? What things make this document significant and worthy of someone else’s attention? Also be sure to read the document Reading and Writing about Primary Sources, which will also be posted to Canvas.
Reading and Writing about Primary Sources
(Accessed at https://www.wm.edu/as/history/undergraduateprogram/hwrc/handou ts/primarysources/ind ex.php)
What are primary sources?: Historian Mary Lynn Rampolla defines them as “materials
produced by people or groups directly involved in the event or topic under
consideration.” The French historian Marc Bloch (1886-1944) put it another way in his
book, The Historian’s Craft: “the historian is, by definition, absolutely incapable of
observing the facts which he examines. No Egyptologist has ever seen Ramses. No expert
on the Napoleonic Wars has ever heard the sound of the cannon at Austerlitz. We can
speak of earlier ages only through the accounts of eye-witnesses.” Primary sources can
include not just written documents (e.g., letters) but also the material remains (e.g.,
furniture, art, architecture, music) of a specific time and place. Primary sources are the
essential building blocks for the historian’s reconstruction of a moment in time. The
historian’s task is to design the blueprint and to assemble these blocks into a coherent
Reading Primary Sources:
Reading a source critically is one of the historian’s most fundamental skills. First read the
document(s) for content. What is the document saying? What is the story line? Glean the
source(s) for the essential information about the main characters, events, ideas, and
arguments. Once you have mastered the content, it is helpful to write a short summary of
the document in your own words. Then re-read the document(s) for context. Think about
the following questions as you critically examine the source(s):
Authorship: What do you know about the author’s background? Why did the author
write the document? What motives did he or she have in putting pen to paper? What
personal, class, ethnic, religious, gender or cultural beliefs and assumptions might have
influenced the author’s viewpoint and writing?
Genre: Does the source fall into a distinct genre (def ined as “a category of literary
composition characterized by a particular style, form, and content”)? How does the genre
shape the author’s writing? Examples of literary/historical genres may include novels,
biographies, captivity and travel narratives, poems, petitions, newspapers, popular songs,
speeches, laws, government records, and pamphlets.
Audience: For whom was the author writing? Did he or she address any particular person
or group? Did the author’s audience have any effect on the document’s cont ent? Was the
author speaking for (or representing) a particular audience? Was the author trying to
silence another audience? How was the document received?
Language: What can you tell about a historical period from the language, vocabulary,
and rhetoric used? What does the writer’s choice of words tell us about social or cultural
assumptions? How have the meanings of the words changed over time? Was the
document written in English or was it translated from another language? How might the
translation have altered the document’s meaning? What role might the translator have
played in shaping the document’s tone or content?
Reliability: What can the source tell you about the past? How useful is it for
understanding the past? How trustworthy is the source? Does it exclude, downplay, or
ignore evidence or issues that you can verify through other sources? What is the author
Authenticity: Are there reasons to doubt the authorship of the document? Was the
document possibly a forgery? Has it been altered in any way? If it is a transcription of
someone else’s words, who was the scribe? What role might the scribe have played in
shaping the document’s tone or content?
Influence: How important or influential was the source in its own day and age? By what
standards can one measure a document’s significance? Was it widely disseminated and
read (e.g., a pamphlet)? Was it more personal (e.g., a diary-though some authors intended
their diaries to be published)? Did the document’s publication have anticipated and
Relationship to Other Course Themes: How does the document relate to the course’s
main themes? What kinds of connections can you draw to other primary or secondary
sources and the lectures?
Helpful Tips for Writing Essays Based Upon Primary Sources:
Carefully review the assignment’s goals. Always follow your professor’s specific
guidelines before the general suggestions in this handout. Then have the assignment’s
goals in mind as you familiarize yourself with the sources, develop a thesis, outline your
main points, and write the essay.
Develop a strong thesis statement. Give some thought to your thesis before taking notes
and outlining, lest you end up with pages and pages of pointless evidence. Ask yourself,
“What is the main question that I am trying to answer in this paper?” “What is the one
point that I want the reader to come away with after reading my essay?” In some cases,
your professor will have assigned you a question or questions to consider. You may,
however, have permission to focus on a particular theme or topic in the document(s). If
you are writing an essay based on numerous primary sources, consider a theme that
unites the documents. Your thesis is like a coat tree upon which you will hang your
supporting evidence. It should present your analysis of the meaning and significance of
the source(s). Accordingly, your thesis should be argumentative, not descriptive.
Example of a descriptive “thesis”: “In Common Sense, Thomas Paine presented his views
on why the American colonists should break with Great Britain” (Note: no one would
ever disagree with this statement; it only tells us what the author did and it says
absolutely nothing about the meaning or significance of Paine’s work).
Example of an argumentative thesis: “Thomas Paine’s use of plain language, biblical
analogies, and egalitarian rhetoric explains the enormous appeal of Common Sense”
(Note: one could easily prove this argument by examining, in the subsequent paragraphs,
the three points listed in the sentence).
Don’t summarize-analyze! A primary source essay should not be a restatement or
summary of the document’s content. Essays typically call for a close analysis or
dissection of the texts’ meanings. Refer to the first section of this handout for examples of
analytical questions that you can pose of any source.
Use strong topic sentences. “What is the main point I am trying to make in this
paragraph?” The first sentence in the paragraph-the topic sentence-should announce not
only the subject of the paragraph but also the significance of the information that follows
it. The topic sentence is essentially the thesis of an individual paragraph. Do not place
your strongest points in the middle of or at the end of the paragraph lest the reader
wonder why he/she is reading your evidence.
Use quotes judiciously. The essay should present your analysis of the sources; overuse
of quotes reduces the amount of space in which you have to develop your arguments and
shows that you have nothing more to say than the original document. Refrain from using
block quotes in shorter essays (those that are fewer than eight pages long) unless the
complete quote is indispensable to your analysis. If your quote is longer than four lines,
then you should use a block quotation. Block quotes are single spaced, indented, and do
not need the telltale quotation marks (” . . . “). Be sure that you provide citations and that
your quotations do not take the words, phrases, or sentences out of context.
Primary Source Essay #2
On Canvas I will upload a number of primary source documents relating to topics
covered after the mid-term exam, from the era of the Restored Republic to the Post-
Revolutionary Period in Mexican history. You will choose only one (1) of these
documents as the subject of your essay.
You must contextualize the document you have chosen within the framework of the
course. This essay should not be like a book review or simply be a summary of the
document, but rather should analyze the text as part of one of the main topics of the
course. The purpose of the primary source assignment is for you to practice
critically reading and analyzing primary source documents and putting them into
larger context. Such a skill is absolutely central to the work of historians and is
something from which everyone can benefit.
In your essay, identify the document with specific topics we have touched on in the
course and analyze its importance and impact in relation to these topics. Be sure to
place the document into its historical context. What was going on at the time and in
the location this source was written? What important themes, trends, concepts, or
consequences does it illustrate? What do we know from examining this source that
we didn’t know or understand before encountering it? What things make this
document significant and worthy of someone else’s attention? Also be sure to read
the document Reading and Writing about Primary Sources, which will also be posted
Your essay should be between three and four double-spaced pages in length, or
roughly between 750 and 1000 words. Your writing should be clear and free of
grammatical errors, concise and well organized. Your essay will be due by the end of
the day on Thursday, May 21st. Please let me know in advance if you foresee any
difficulties turning this assignment in on time.