https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2012/09/fear-of-a-black-president/309064/jk In this assignment, you will closely analyze a secondary source—the work of a historian—to prepare you to do historical analysis of your own. You will use this paper to understand how historians make arguments and assess how your chosen secondary source uses primary sources to support its claims.
You also get the chance to practice good writing: writing that lets you convince someone else to see the world the way that you see it. You must choose a secondary source from our course syllabus for this assignment, including optional readings. Secondary sources get information second-hand. They are normally written long after the event or events they discuss occurred. The secondary sources we study in this class are written or created by historians. Here, you closely analyze how a professional historian makes arguments. This assignment prepares you to act as a historian yourself in your later essays.
Requirements Write a cohesive, thorough analysis of your secondary source according to the notes below. Include both a thorough summary of the source and an analytical takeaway for your reader. Imagine that your reader is familiar with your secondary source, but hasn’t thought very hard about it. They maybe skimmed it quickly and didn’t take notes, or they took the course a few semesters ago, or they were busy with something else that week. Your paper will summarize the source for them as well as take apart how it works and provide a new perspective that comes specifically from you (the analytical takeaway). Write a single, cohesive essay, without separate headings for summary and analysis. Use topic sentences to help the reader understand the purpose of each paragraph and how it relates to the previous ones. Remember to cite every single piece of information that you learned from a specific place. That includes information from lecture, class discussion, and from the text you are writing about. You will need to use page numbers. You will not have much room for outside research and shouldn’t need it, but if you do use an additional source, cite it.
Summary Your summary should cover most, if not all, of the following points: What year was this source written? Where and how was it published (in a scholarly journal, as a book, as a film, in a newspaper, etc.)? What is this source’s central argument? What are two or three sub-arguments that support this central claim? What examples and/or evidence does the author use to support their argument? Make sure to illuminate how the author connects their evidence to their argument. After all, that’s what you’ll be doing in your next two essays—analyzing primary sources! This is the hardest, most important, and most analytical part of your summary. What kinds of sources does the author use? (E.g. newspapers, diaries, letters, census records, medical records, surveys, books published at the time, books published after the fact, etc.) Is the author arguing against anyone, or against a prevailing assumption? If so, what? Make sure you can reference a specific place in the text where you see this happening and break it down clearly for the reader. As you write your essay, these points will likely blend together.
Analysis Your analytical takeaway should add your perspective, backed up by convincing and professional evidence, to your reader’s understanding of the source itself. In other words, your reader comes to understand the source through your eyes. As you consider your analytical takeaway, you might want your paper to answer one or more of these three questions: What about this source is most effective (convincing, revealing, memorable, clear, etc.) and why? What about this source is least effective and why? Or, closely related: which questions does this source leave open and why does that matter? What is this source’s audience? How do you know? Why does the author think that their information is important to share with their audience? How do you know? Does the author have a political or ethical goal in addition to the goal of synthesizing historical knowledge? (If this reminds you of the midterm—that’s the point!) If you focus on more than one of these questions, intertwine them into a single takeaway that the reader can easily remember. Essays should be written in the third person.
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