Overview Historical Documents Analysis

In history, a primary source is defined as an object, artifact, or document that is original to the time period in which one is studying. One such occurrence is analyzing historical documents – Richard Frethorne Describes Indentured Servitude in Virginia. A historian uses primary sources as a way to get a first hand account of the past. Analyzing, understanding, and interpreting that information requires a lot of work in preparation. This assignment is designed from tools and questions used by historians today to understand and interpret the past.

Learning how to analyze primary sources is one of the most basic skills of a historian. To do so, a historian often performs a list of tasks known as sourcing a document. This involves asking and answering questions about the document type, researching the background of the author, understanding the context, determining the author’s intended audience and purpose, among other things. In this assignment, you will be analyzing a primary source by answering brief questions often used by historians to source a document. By doing this, you will be completing a key component of this course, analyzing and interpreting primary sources.

historical documents analysis process

analyzing historical documents

In this assignment you will analyze Richard Frethorne Describes Indentured Servitude in Virginia (Document 3-1 in Documents from Reading the American Past, chapter 3).

Historical Documents Analysis Directions

Read through your document and respond to the following questions. Responses should be typed and numbered with the appropriate response. This is not a essay, but a way to collect data on a source before ultimately using it to write an interpretation of the past. Responses on analyzing historical documents should be in complete sentences where indicated.  In the places where examples are requested, be sure to include quotations or anything relevant information from the document to support your answers.

Response Questions

  1. What type of document are you analyzing? Examples include: Letter, Speech, Newspaper, Email, Advertisement, Court Document, Presidential Document, Congressional Document, Photograph, or Image
  2. Who wrote the document? Be sure to identify the author of the document and not the editor of the document reader or textbook.
  3. What is their status or position? Do a little research on the background of the author and include any information that might be relevant to understanding the document.(minimum 1-2 sentences)
  4. When was the document written or created? Briefly explain what else was going on during the context of that time where this document might fit in. (minimum 2-3 sentences)
  5. Who was the intended audience? In other words, who did the author intend to read or view this at the time it was written?
  6. Why do you think the document was written or created? What was the author’s purpose? Give an example to support your answer.(1-2 sentences)
  7. Briefly summarize this document in a few sentences. What can you learn from this document? What could it tell you about this time in history? (2-3 sentences)
  8. List 2 things the author said that you think are important. Explain why you think they are important.(2-3 sentences)
  9. Write a question to the author that is left unanswered by the document.

Have you ever wanted to learn how to read and analyze historical documents or sources? This Astute Scholars will walk you step by step through the process of understanding how to examine primary and secondary.