Introducing Students to Primary Sources and Document Analysis
Step 1 The instructor will define what is meant by the term primary source. Primary sources are original records
created during the time period you are studying, and are not filtered by interpretation-examples include
letters, diaries, photographs, artwork, audio tapes, films, newspapers, magazines, and books. Primary
sources may also be materials created at a later date by the participant or observer of the time period
through memoirs, autobiographies or oral histories.
Step 2 The instructor will hand out a copy of the Document Analysis Form to each student. Click here to obtain
Step 3 The instructor will explain each section of the Document Analysis Form.
Focus Question: What was the greater motivating factor in dealing with accused war criminals and civilians in occupied nations-the desire to do the "right" thing or the desire to do what reduced American involvement the fastest?
Box 1: Basic Source Information-FATP
Form: What type of document do we have? Who produced it? (letter, press release, transcript,
photograph, poster, book excerpt...)
Audience: Who is the target of the information contained in the document? (general public,
private communiqué, voters, academics...)
Topic: What is being said or discussed in the document?
Purpose: Why was this document created? What was the goal of the individual/group producing
Box 2: Content Summary (as it relates to the focus question)
What is this document that helps us to address the focus question?
Box 3: Conclusions/Comments about the source (*)
Is this a reliable document? Does this source help us to reach a conclusion about the focus
question? If so, what conclusions do you reach based exclusively on this document?
(*) As previously stated, this lesson is solely focused on one extended document so this box will only be applicable once for this lesson, but the general format is yours to use again in future lessons using multiple primary sources.
You might wish to insert the following questions in the Conclusions/Comment box for this specific lesson:
What other types of documents do you think would help you to reach a more comprehensive
understanding of this topic?
Step 4 The instructor will ask the students to fill in the appropriate boxes on the Document Analysis Form after
reading each page. This lesson can be conducted on a computer or in a traditional classroom.
Students should not advance to the next page until they have analyzed the page they have just read.
Step 5 The instructor can elect to have individual students report their findings to the class after everyone
has completed a page, or the instructor can choose to create groups where the students can share their
findings on a more limited scale.
Step 6 After the final page has been analyzed; the instructor should restate the Focus Question and facilitate
a group discussion. When students respond, they should be as precise as possible by identifying key
sections of the document that support their conclusions.
Step 7 The instructor should collect the Document Analysis Form for assessment.
gain exposure to civilian and military perspectives on post-war Germany and Japan by employing a
Document Analysis Form to decode a 1947 NBC radio broadcast transcript from NBC's, "Foreign
National Standards for History:
National Standards in Historical Thinking-Standards 3A, 3B, 3D, 3H, and 3J
National Standards for World History-Era 9 Standard 1A-The student understands
One of the most important skills that can be taught to our students is the ability to decode primary source documents. Unfortunately, many modern students prefer to have their information "pre-analyzed" and delivered to them in form of "important things to remember" for impending tests. It should be self-evident that students are better served if they "earn" their knowledge, and utilizing primary source documents as part of a discovery method lesson is an ideal approach to achieve that goal. While it is often advisable to use a series of diverse primary sources so that students can compare & contrast, uncover differing perspectives, and synthesize conclusion, this lesson is created around a single document so that an instructor can introduce students to key terms (primary source document, perspective, bias...), develop the skills of comprehending the stated as well as the implicit by using a Document Analysis Form, and foster a comfort level that will facilitate student interest in future use of these "time capsules" of history.
The document chosen for this lesson is a nine-page transcript released by the War Department in 1947 and is focused on the indictment of German Industrialists as part of the Nuremberg Trials and provides a report on the occupied areas of Germany and Japan. It is hoped that the "confidential" nature of this document coupled with the candid and sometimes insensitive questions and comments of the NBC announcer will capture the interest of the students and disabuse them of the notion that investigating history is boring.