Skip to main content Skip to navigation

1,000 Word Primary Source Analysis


This assignment requires you to engage with one or more of the primary texts or sources that we have covered. This could be a text from the seminar reading list, a source introduced in the lectures, a collection of sources on a database or website, or another source of your choice (discussed in consultation with your seminar tutor), this could even include a material artefact. You will be required to write an extended critical reflection on the source(s)/text(s)/database you have selected in response to a particular question or topic.

This is intended as an opportunity for you to engage deeply with a source or group of sources and to get feedback and advice on approaches to incorporate primary material into your analysis. It is intended to develop and assess your ability to relate analysis of original archival sources to a broader historical question and will prove useful for your essay writing and dissertation skills.

The source you discuss CAN be on the same topic as your presentation, but must NOT overlap with any of the material in your long essay.

For this piece of assessment, you should:

  • Identify a question and then select a source/group of primary sources from the weekly reading lists. A list of essay titles may be found on the weekly seminar pages. An alternative title may be discussed and developed with your seminar tutor. 
  • Briefly describe the source/set of sources and its/their historical significance.

  • Keep in mind that you need to answer the question. It is therefore important to think about the ways in which the source sheds light on the issues/themes raised by the question.
  • You may wish to engage with secondary literature on this topic, or use secondary material to link you text to its wider historical context. However, you should remember that the main focus of your essay should be on the texts and sources themselves.

When preparing your analysis, you may wish to consider the following:

  • Who has written the source (if known) and their possible motives for doing so. You can use the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography for further reference.

  • Consider when the source was written and the significance of this in relation to the topic being discussed and why it is important.
  • You might want to think about the content of the source and its significance for better-understanding the topic or the question, or for understanding the motives of the writer.

  • You could also think about the potential audience of the source - is this addressed to a government, a monarch, an individual, to a literate reading public?
  • Are there any limitations to using a source like this? For example, is a printed pamphlet an accurate reflection of an authors' thoughts and feelings, would a diplomatic letter just be replicating conventional language.
  • Does the source confirm/contest/add nuance or depth to one or more of the propositions from the secondary literature you have read for this course (provide references).
  • You could also consider how this source relates to any of the writing by historians that you have read on this topic. Does it reinforce/challenge/dispute the ideas raised in the secondary literature on this subject?

Further sources