Analytical Essay on a Primary Source

 You can only use sources from the website for the Analytical Essay on Primary Sources. No sources from outside the course are allowed. The use of or reference to material outside the course is not allowed and will result in a failing grade for the assignment.

You will be analyzing  Silk Roads:  Faxian, The Journey of Faxian to India

Website over Primary Source Faxian:


Once you have analyzed the primary source by answering the questions (questions are on the essay prompt attachment) compose your essay using the information and insights from your analysis that you recorded in your notes. Your task in this essay is to summarize and interpret the primary source. Your task is not to argue with or endorse its ideas. Try to maintain an impartial tone. To complete the assignment successfully you need to read the source carefully and analyze its contents.


Start your essay with your overall impression of the primary sources. Tell the reader what kind of sources they are (images, legal codes, literary texts, travelogues, memoirs, architecture, etc.). Express in your best possible prose the stated or implied main point of each source and try to surmise from clues in the text (tone, topics, values, etc.) the sources’ purpose. Finish your introduction with your thesis statement which should be your answer to prompt 8. Engage the reader’s interest by using active verbs and active voice.

Next, provide a historical context for the documents. In what kind of society did the primary sources’ creators live? What were the dominant cultural assumptions of the period? How might the sources’ creators fit into this larger background? Do not limit yourself to these questions. Your goal is to present an accurate and concise two- to three-paragraph sketch that places the primary source in its historical context and gives an appropriate factual and thematic background to the specific points you will discuss in the next part of the essay. To provide this context, please consult the course textbook and supplemental web materials that accompany the primary sources in the course.

The next section of the essay should state what you take to be the tone of the primary source, the key issues the source raises, and the information it provides. Be sure to give examples to support your claims about tone and issues. Summarize the source’s main points in detail as you relate them to those issues. Express your ideas as clearly and forcefully as possible and be sure that similar ideas are grouped together around a central issue for each paragraph. Each paragraph must develop one, and only one, identifiable idea. Make sure that your ideas flow easily from one paragraph to another by means of clear transitions.

After summarizing the primary source it is now time to analyze the values and assumptions it contains. This part of the essay calls for you to make some inferences from the source since values and assumptions are more often hidden and implicit rather than open and explicit. They are the unspoken foundations on which a source rests and they often give it its meaning. Be sure to present those pieces of evidence upon which you make your assessment.

In the conclusion, summarize your main points, discuss the significance of the primary source, and leave the reader with an idea to ponder. Your conclusion should pull your ideas together and flow naturally from the body of the essay.



Your essay should be no less than 5 double-spaced typed pages in 12-point Times New Roman font with 1-inch margins on all sides. It can be longer, however, Title, Bibliography, and Works Cited pages are not part of the required page count.

The formatting of the essay and all citations need to follow Chicago Manual of Style format. Chicago is the citation and bibliographic style used by historians. Click on the website links below for Chicago-style guides and examples of humanities and author-date citation styles. You may use either humanities or author-date citation styles but use only one of these styles in your work. The author-date citation style is very close to MLA and APA styles

The essay prompts are in bold and I have written out briefly my clarifications for the essay prompts

1. What kind of primary source is it? This is pretty simple. Is it a speech, a philosophical text, an image, a law code, a poem, etc.?

2. Who is the author or creator (if known)? This will be straightforward for this assignment. We will consider the author the person who is given attribution on the website that hosts the document. If you have any questions about authorship, please contact me.

3. Can you tell why was it written or created? This question is asking about the author’s’ purpose in creating the primary source at the time. What was he or she trying to accomplish?

4. What is the primary source’s tone? What words and phrases (and/or scenes and visual perspectives) convey it? “Tone” asks you to identify the “mood” or emotion evoked by the words and phrases a primary source. Every primary source has multiple tones. Tone reflects and project attitude. You might have heard the phrase, “Don’t use that tone with me.” So, what tone(s) is the author using with us? Be sure to cite words and phrases that support your choice of tones.

5. What are the author’s or creator’s values and assumptions are? Is there visible bias? Explain your answers. “Values” refer to what the author holds dear or thinks is important. Literally, what the author values or esteems. It also includes by extension what the author does not value or esteem. “Assumptions” are beliefs that the author holds true without proof. It is similar to what people call “common sense.” It can also be about future effects or outcomes. “Bias” can be positive or negative (for or against something). Bias usually means that there is a lack of balance in the primary source. It strongly favors one point of view over others and so is unbalanced.

6. What information does it relate? Did the author or creator have first-hand knowledge of the subject or did s/he report what others saw and heard? The first 5 questions are asking if the primary source you chose can be trusted to give a reliable picture of the period in which it was created. Can it be trusted as a source for historical knowledge? Question 6 is asking what can we learn about the society from which the primary source came. This is what historians really want to know from a primary source but they have to trust that it is something that is reliable or, if it has limitations due to bias, what those limits are. It may shed light on some aspects of history but not others and may need to be supplemented. Of course, first-hand knowledge is more reliable than second-hand knowledge – being a witness to something instead of being told about it by someone else who will filter the information provided.

7. What issues does it address? “Issues” is another word for “problems” or “concerns” that the primary source raises and addresses and proposes to solve. While the issues and concerns may be implicit (hinted or implied) rather than explicit (stated outright), these “problems” or “concerns” are closely related to the author’s purpose or motivation in creating the primary source in the first place.

8. What is your overall assessment of the primary source and its usefulness/significance for the historical study of your topic? This is the main question you need to answer for the Analytical Essay: how useful is the primary source for understanding the society from which it came? However, you can only answer prompt 8 after you have answered the other 7 prompts When you write your essay, the answer to this prompt will be the thesis statement of your essay and the body of the essay will be your answers to the other 7 prompts.

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