primary texts

Dates or raw information alone are relatively meaningless. Consider for example “In 1492 Columbus sailed the Ocean blue.” Unless I understand the motives, causes and repercussions of this journey, this sentence makes no sense. At the same time, it is immediately followed by additional questions: why did he leave? Where did he leave from? What made it possible for him to undertake this endeavor? What were the consequences of this journey for Europe? For America? etc.

All research begins with primary sources. These texts can reveal a lot of information, though often only reluctantly and after some prodding. Here are some fundamental questions you might want to ask:

1. Who? Who wrote this? Does the text tell me? Are there additional texts that can tell me?

2. For whom? Who is the primary audience for this text?

3. Where? Where was the text authored? Does the text tell me?

4. When? When was it written? Does the text tell me?

5. What? What does the text tell us? Openly? In passing?

6. Why? Why was this written? Does the text tell me?

7. Why in this form? Why did the author chose this genre?

8. Do you think that the text achieves its goal?

9. How else could the author have addressed the same issue?

10. How do you react to the text? Why? Explain!


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