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Your primary source assignment

Your assignment is to learn as much as possible about the primary source you have chosen by examining the time and place that it came from, and determine where and how your document fits into the broader historical setting from which it came.

  • What is the origin of the primary source?  Who created it?  How did the author’s personal circumstances affect what was written?
  • Who was the author’s intended audience?
  • Why was the document written? 
  • How might the circumstances of the document’s creation have affected its content?
  • What is the significance of the document for understanding the modern history of Western Civilization?

Background Reading for the Basics

Imagine you are doing your primary document analysis on Mary Wollstonecraft's text "A Vindication of the Rights of Women." Read the first three paragraphs of this source: Wollstonecraft, Mary

After reading these paragraphs, ask yourself:

  • What do you know about Wollstonecraft that could help you to analyze and understand her writing?
  • What search terms might you use to learn more about the time and social context that she lived in, or to find out more about her?
  • Does the article offer any leads to additional helpful information?

Scholarly Encyclopedias of Note

For scholarly encyclopedias, start with the electronic collection on the Background Sources tab of this guide.

MRU owns many online and print encyclopedias that address the topics and figures in this course. Some print items are located in the Reference Collection across from the service desk, others are in the Main Collection on levels 3 and 4.

Here is a selection of academic encyclopedias relevant to many topics in this course:

Cambridge Social History of Britain PRINT

New Dictionary of the French Revolution

Encyclopedia of European Social History from 1350-2000 

Encyclopedia of the Renaissance  

Encyclopedia of Nineteenth Century Thought 

Encyclopedia of the Victorian Era  PRINT

Holocaust Encyclopedia 

The Industrial Revolution in Europe 

Palgrave Macmillan Dictionary of Women's Biography

Women in World History: A Biographical Encyclopedia PRINT

Alice Swabey's picture
Alice Swabey
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