Primary Source Study

Assignment Overview

A primary source is a document or object created or produced during the time-period and place of study.  Historical research is based on primary sources; however primary sources cannot be taken at face value.  The job of an historian is to interpret and analyze primary sources in order to better understand the historical period in question.  The first task when you begin to look at any primary source is to understand the context of the source and determine its historical value.  Second, you need to analyze the source: consider what information the source provides and what further questions the source raises.

The purpose of the Primary Source Study is to examine a selection of primary source documents to see what they can tell you about a particular topic or period in history. The point of this assignment is not to reiterate what is said in the textbook or lectures, but to add something new based on your own analysis of primary texts.


For your primary source study you will be using the Gesta Francorum which we will read and discussed in Module Ten along with one other primary source from the following options.  These texts are all available through our Blackboard site:

  • Stephen of Blois, Letter to his Wife
  • Godfrey, Raymond and Daimbert to the Pope
  • Anna Comena, The Alexiad, selections on the First Crusade
  • Ibn al-Athir, The First Crusade

The majority of your essay should be your own interpretation and analysis of your selected documents.  You can use the textbook, class discussions, and letters for background information and to contextualize your sources.  You do not need outside sources, however ALL sources must be cited (we will go over how and what to cite in class).

Your essay should include the following:

  • An introduction to the primary sources (who wrote them and when; what are the sources about).
  • The historical context of the sources (what is happening at the time that is relevant to your reading of the source).
  • Your analysis of these texts. Think about how these texts help you understand the experience of individuals who participated or witnessed the First Crusade, how participants and observers perceived the ideology of the Crusades, or how they reflected upon the events of the First Crusade.


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