Primary Source Comparison Guide

Recommended length: 4-6 double-spaced pages, 12-point font, 1-inch margins 

Bibliography required, no title page required 

Please use Chicago Manual of Style for all citations

Purpose: Identify and compare a key component of two primary sources. Consider the use of primary sources in writing, research, and scholarship. This assignment is to provide you with understanding and insight into how to use them in future scholarship, both within and outside the study of history. These documents provide the basis for our understanding and interpretation of historical events and the individuals involved. 

A word of warning: this is not a summary, but an analysis. Use material from the documents to support your responses to the Tasks below; however, if you find yourself using phrases like, “Then he said…,” or, “Next, she wrote…”, reconsider your approach. A good approach is to use paraphrasing rather than direct quotations. Remember to cite your paraphrases.

Audience: While you will write for submission to your instructor, consider other students as your primary audience. Your comparison should include necessary context, background, and usage suggestions for students doing larger research projects. This does not mean that you will share these documents with other students, merely that you should keep this audience in mind when writing.

Format: This is formal writing assignments. Standard rules of grammar and writing apply. The thesis is to identify and assess the component of primary documents and compare their importance and relevance. Include a formal introduction, with a thesis, and a conclusion.

Tasks: This assignment requires two actions: identification of the sources and comparison of the responses, ideas, or beliefs between Prokopios’ discussion of the Plague of Justinian with a document from The Black Death. First, read the selected sources and identify the component or components you wish to compare, i.e., symptoms, causes, disease as God’s punishment, response, etc. Once you identify the point or points of comparison, analyze each to reach conclusions about the value and merit of the sources. 

Remember to consider the authors’ bias. You should be familiar with Prokopios’ biases from our earlier analysis of The Secret History but the other document may require additional research to get biographical information about the author, the context of the document’s creation, and the purpose of the document, if not evident from the document itself. If you do use outside sources, please limit yourself to scholarly works from books or peer-reviewed journals. Additional information on some documents is limited.

The first aspect of a primary document analysis is identification. Some of the aspects of identification require research outside of the document itself, although many editors provide some of these details in the introductory paragraph preceding each document. Your analysis should begin with identifying the key components of the document itself, and using those identifications to answer the following questions. In some cases, you may not be able to identify answers to all the questions, but you should state that, i.e., there are no obvious biases in the document or offer suggestions for further research opportunities.

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