primary source analysis

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Paper: Analysis of primary documents (primary sources). A five-page analysis of two primary
sources (primary documents) that you have been assigned to read or primary sources you have
tracked down on our topics we have addressed or will have addressed in our class. You use primary
sources from outside ours, I just need to approve them well ahead of time. You will be writing
about two primary sources on a related topic. Typed, double spaced, one-inch margins, no
bigger than 12 point font.
First, choose two primary sources that are related to each other on a topic that interests you. Many
are listed in your syllabus, grouped together by topic as we cover it. See also the table of contents
of our Wood “Problems in Modern Latin American History” reader
WHAT ARE PRIMARY SOURCES (they are also called primary documents)? Primary sources
are firsthand accounts (it means “first”, or “firsthand”) or eyewitness accounts (people who were
there at the time of the event in question).
Examples of primary sources include: letters and petitions (they were there at the time,
writing to someone, or petitioning for something); manuals (like “The Essence of Guerrilla
Warfare” by “Che” Guevara who waged guerrilla warfare against a dictatorship and wrote a “how
to” manual about it- again, he was there); diaries (again, they were there at the time, writing down
their thoughts); oral histories or testimonies (people who were there at the time and either wrote
down their own histories or dictated them to someone like Rigoberta Menchú’s testimony, the
“Christianity and Revolution” document narrated to Margaret Randall, or “A Cuban Slave’s
Testimony” by Esteban Montejo); speeches (again, people or political leaders who were there at the time, giving a speech or an address to someone, like “Address to the United Nations” by Hugo
Chávez, or “History Will Absolve Me” by Fidel Castro); police records (again, police agencies
who, at the risk of beating a dead horse, were there at the time, collecting dossiers about someone
suspected of something, like our “Death Squad Diary” that Kate Doyle reproduced in her
Washington post article I gave you); diplomatic correspondence (diplomats who were there at
the time, either writing or cabling back home to their superiors or to their counterparts in another
country); Public policy pronouncements (like “Statements of U.S. Foreign Policy Doctrine- the
Roosevelt Corollary,” where Roosevelt personally addresses the Congress about a matter he feels is
urgent); mission statements of organizations; political proclamations (like the speech that
Morelos himself gave, reproduced in the article “The Vision of Father Morelos” that historian
Enrique Krauze wrote. Emiliano Zapata’s “Plan de Ayala” is also a political proclamation that is a
primary source, as are the Zapatista communiques, where the Zapatistas personally issue their
demands to the Mexican government in 1994 in writings that circulate worldwide); murals (like
Diego Rivera’s, who personally paints his vision of Mexico’s past and what he hopes will be its
future; just be sure to track down when and where he painted them so you can provide historical
context); or the political cartoons from Wood and Chasteen and in our Powerpoint presentations on
the Neocolonial era (just track down where they came from, when and where they were
published…); films can also be primary sources (“snapshots” of the time they were produced).
Most of the selections from our Wood reader are primary sources, but not all! (Those
written by modern scholars are NOT primary sources)
What is NOT a primary source? Textbooks like Chasteen’s are not primary sources.
Textbooks provide us with very important scholarly analysis, but they’re not first hand accounts,
so not primary sources. Essays by historians or other scholars are not primary sources – they
are secondary sources. The essays written by modern scholars, who are writing about events
hundreds of years ago (or even decades ago) in Wood and Chasteen are very important analytical
essays which you will use to provide the historical context for your paper. Newspaper articles are
not primary sources either (though, if reporters or scholars dig up and use primary sources like
Kate Doyle did with “Death Squad Diary”- you can track those primary sources she used down and
use those for your analysis.
You can choose from those we have read, those we haven’t yet read, or you can find two
primary sources from an academic and reputable site online, you just have to clear them with me
first. I cannot/will not grade your essay without having cleared your topic in person. You’ll
choose two of these primary sources (on a similar topic- they have to be related to each other,
have something in common) to develop your deep and penetrating analysis of the contributions
your primary sources make to our understanding of the topic you’re addressing. Choose the
documents on a theme that you’re interested in. Examples from our material include documents on
African slavery to the Americas, on Imperial Expansion, on Revolutions, on U.S.-Latin America
relations, the Cold War, and on Globalization, to name a few topics we’ve addressed.

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