Examining Your Primary Sources

Examining Your Primary Sources

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Examining your Primary Sources (Weeks 8-10)

The goal of these next three weeks is to work with the primary sources that you have chosen. This is an important step for two reasons:
1.You will be trying your hand at the act of historical interpretation (really trying to make sense of the primary sources you have chosen);
2.You will be learning more about happiness by linking your sources to the chronological period about which you have been studying.
So here are your tasks for weeks 8-10.

You should carefully examine your five primary source sand write an essay (of about 500-750 words) in which you interpret any three of those sources. (If you prefer to interpret four or all five of your sources, feel free to do so.) Your interpretation should include:

1.a description of the main ideas, values, feelings, worldviews, that you find in your document(s);
2.a discussion of how the specific words or images—clues—that you have found in your source help you interpret that document; and
3.an analysis of the ways in which what you see in your primary source offers you insight into the major themes, problems, and/or concerns about “happiness” relevant to your period. (This is a place where you should consult and refer explicitly to the background readings on your period that you have done.)
Three Notes

Note 1: When writing this short essay, you will want to find “evidence.” That is, you don’t want to only assert something, but to show your own thinking—your own act of carefully interpreting. This could mean your detailed description of a photograph, or it could mean using a direct quote (putting the text between quotation marks) from your document (always properly cited–that is, identifying the source) and helping your reader understand why you interpreted your source as you did. As your readers, we have to make sense of how you understood your source.

Note 2: Of course, you do not have to “agree” with your source; for example, you may think that the ideas expressed in a political tract that you have found are antithetical to your own, or the images in a cartoon are ones that you might find offensive (or maybe even quite the opposite!). But, above all, you should be digging and questioning and doing your best to understand this source and trying to looks for links between it and your historical period.

Note 3: Your essay should draw some conclusions, however tentative you think they might be. So, you should be asking yourself: what have I learned about happiness as a result of my careful reading of and reflection on these sources? Do I have some insights or even some new questions (and, of course, new questions are also important outcomes) that I may not have had before?

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