Holocaust Analysis

5 Primary sources about the Holocaust
Reminder about Primary Sources: Primary sources are sources of information (photos, art, newspaper articles, diaries, letters, government reports, speech transcripts, etc.) that were created during the historical period that you are studying . Just about anything that existed or was created during that time period can count as a primary source—even material objects, like clothing. Primary sources are valuable to historians because they provide a first-hand account of what life was like in the past.

Why Read Primary Sources?

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Because, as you’ve hopefully already noticed in our primary source workshops, such first-hand accounts of life in the past provide us with windows into the past. This is as close as it gets to direct observation for historians trying to piece together the past. Historians rely on these various records of the past (text, visual, material) when crafting their own historical narratives.

How to Analyze a Primary Source?

Already in class, you’ve been asked to read a number of sources. As a result, you’ve already encountered world views and assumptions that are quite different from our own. You’ve encountered political ideologies or various spins of past events. And you’ve seen have different sources on the same topic can either support each other or conflict. The type of analysis work you need to do for the final project is very similar. Each source analysis you write (one per source), will need to have the following five sections :

1) Purpose : All sources have a purpose, in that all sources aim to communicate something. This can be explicit (say, in a political speech) or more implicit (like clothing styles). To complete this question, your response should address some of the following questions:

Who is the author and what is her or his place in society (explain why you are justified in thinking so)?

What is at stake for the author in this text?

What are they trying to accomplish by writing this text?

Why do you think she or he wrote it? What evidence in the text tells you this?

Does the author have a thesis/argument? What is that thesis/argument?

Again, the source will dictate how precise you are able to be. For example, if you are analyzing a speech by Hitler, it’s pretty easy to determine who the author is. If you are analyzing an article by an anonymous person, you may have to look for clues to make educated guesses. For example, if you had an anonymous article that was published in Louisiana that was against the Haitian Revolution, you could logically conclude that the article was written by a white slave owner who lives in the South if not Louisiana.

2) Argument : Again, you might not able to answer each of the below questions for each source, but this section should address some of the following questions:

How does the text make its case?

What is its strategy for accomplishing its goal? How does it carry out this strategy?

What is the intended audience of the text? How might this influence its rhetorical strategy?

What arguments or concerns does the author respond to that are not clearly stated? (In other words, not all arguments are direct or explicit. Sometimes it is helpful to read between the lines)

Do you think the author is credible and reliable?

3) Presuppositions : This is about considering the assumptions and/or unconscious biases in the text, as well as being self-aware in terms of what your own biases might be. This section should address at least some of the following:

How do the ideas and values in the source differ from the ideas and values of our age? What presumptions and preconceptions do you as a reader bring to bear on this text? For instance, what portions of the text might you find objectionable, but which contemporaries might have found acceptable?

How might the difference between our values and the values of the author influence the way you understand the text?

4) Epistemology : This is basically a fancy way of saying, how one knows what one knows. For example, Galileo’s epistemology in terms of astronomy was based on evidence he observed with his telescope—which was very different than the epistemology of the Catholic Church as the time. This section should answer:

What kinds of information does this text tell you without knowing it’s telling you?

How does this source evaluate truth?

How well is the source’s method of evaluation of truth, in your opinion? Where/how might their method fail them?

Again, to go back to Galileo—his sketches of the moon tell us that he values direct observation, the ability to repeat that observation, the scientific method, etc. This section may be short, depending on the source. Some sources might rely on personal experience, hearsay, rumors, etc.

5) Relate and Compare : This is where your other sources come into play. This is why I’ve been asking you to find sources that will overlap (or speak to each other), and that will provide different perspectives on your topic. Pick one of your other sources, and compare it with the source you are writing on. Of course, this section needs to be unique for each 5 sources. So, if for your analysis of source #1, you compare it with source #2, then for your analysis of source #2, you will need to pick from sources 3–5 to compare it to. Answer at least some of the following questions:

What patterns or ideas are repeated throughout the two sources?

What major differences appear in them?

Which do you find more reliable and credible?

Formatting : You will write a source analysis, modeled on the above format, for each of your five sources. Each section should be a paragraph, roughly equal in size (though again, it’s okay if some of your epistemology sections are relatively short).

You should use Times New Roman, 12pt font, double spaced, 1” margins.

Each source analysis should be about 500–600 words long. I have dropped the requirement for the final 1-2page reflection, and instead increased the word count of each source analysis by 100 words. It’s okay if one is say, 50 words under, or another is 50 words over—but try to keep most of them within this word range. (For reference, 500 words is about 1.25 pages)

In addition to the five source analysis documents, please turn in a copy of each source. You can do this by copy-pasting, scanning, etc. I want to be able to see your sources.

Finally, turn in another copy of a list of your five sources, with complete citation details [Author, Title of Source, Publisher (if a book), Publication (if a newspaper or magazine), Original Date published, page number(s) if relevant, and the archive, website, sourcebook, etc. where you found it]. For many of you, this will be the same list you’ve already turned in. But I know some of you are still deciding on which five sources to include, others might make a last-minute change, etc.

In sum : you need five source analyses (500-600 words each), one list of five primary sources (which could very well be what you’ve already turned in), and a copy of each source. A link to a source is not a copy of a source.

How you will be evaluated:

Analysis : Given this a primary source analysis project, this is obviously going to be the most important part of the assignment. How carefully did you read/examine your sources? How thoughtfully did you consider the identity of the author, and how this might influence the text? How well did you pick up on differences and similarities between two sources in your comparison section? Etc.

Writing Quality : Are there typos? Is the writing clear? Are you using your language efficiently, or is there a lot of filler and repetition?

Following Directions : This is simple. Have you found five primary sources that provide different perspectives on the same topic? Are no more than two from the same source? (i.e no more than two from the same sourcebook, or NYTimes archive, etc.) Does your list of sources have all the needed details? (If a source is anonymous, write anonymous for author) Did you turn in copies of all five sources?

An example from Global I has been provided on Blackboard for guidance. Good luck!


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