PSA Papers

Primary Source Analysis Papers

PSA Guidelines are found on page 3 of the Course Syllabus
PSAs are due on Jan 30, Feb 6, Feb 27, March 20, March 27, Apr 3, and Apr 24.

Download the PSA rubric


Historians use evidence to construct a story or interpretation about the past, and that evidence is fragmentary, partial or conflicting. A careful historian asks critical questions about her or his evidence and acknowledges the potential strengths and weaknesses of those sources for constructing plausible stories (histories) about the past. Historians make knowledge rather than just consume it.

For each of your required PSA papers, you will practice using a primary source in these ways. You will notice that our textbook contains many original document excerpts. A PSA Paper is a concise, 2-page paper critically analyzing ONE source in light of a claim made in your textbook. This is more than a simple compare/contrast exercise. Both the source and the selected textbook passage MUST BE CITED in your paper using correct Chicago-Style footnotes (see the Footnotes module on Blackboard). You therefore need a word-processing program that permits footnotes; preferably the full installation of Microsoft Office for Mac or PC, available as a free download from the university IT website.

PSAs are NOT opinion pieces and should not simply summarize content. Rather, they are brief works of historical analysis INTERROGATING the document using historical thinking skills (see the Historical Thinking module in Blackboard for more help with this). As you do this over and over, you will develop stronger critical thinking skills, approach primary sources with greater confidence, and understand how historians use such sources to construct their interpretations of the past. You will also be able to contribute more thoughtfully in class discussion. In other words, as you model what they do, you will begin thinking like a historian (a fundamental course outcome).

Choosing a Document / Source: 

I have provided suggested chapters for each PSA; you can select any numbered document from that chapter. You can also use a primary source from a reputable digital archive, such as the DPLA, Library of Congress, National Archives, a presidential library, etc. However, you are not limited to the suggestions. You can write about ANY historical source from any time period post-Civil War for any of your PSA papers.

Citation Tips:

Here are two examples of how to cite documents in our Exploring American Histories textbook. A full citation has TWO PARTS: a) the information provided in small print at the end of each document PLUS b) the full bibliographic information about our textbook INCLUDING the page number where the document was located.


Henry Demarest Lloyd, “Critique of Wealth, 1894,” Wealth Against Commonwealth (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1902), 510-12, 515, in Nancy A. Hewitt and Steven F. Lawson, Exploring American Histories: A Brief Survey With Sources, Vol II: Since 1865 (Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2013), 524-252.

Gro Svendsen, “Letter from a Homesteader, 1863,” Frontier Mother: The Letters of Gro Svendsen, ed. Pauline Farseth and Theodore Blegen (Northfield, MN: Norwegian-American Historical Association, 1950), 39-40, in Nancy A. Hewitt and Steven F. Lawson, Exploring American Histories: A Brief Survey With Sources, Vol II: Since 1865 (Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2013), 477.

Criteria and grading:

  • A PSA is a full 2 pages long (double-spaced) and thoroughly proofread for spelling and grammar.
  • It contains at least two correctly formatted footnotes (one to the original primary source and one to the textbook passage). The paper cites any direct quotation with a footnote.
  • Give your paper a catchy title, not “PSA #3.”
  • Do not include a title page or a separate Works Cited or Bibliography page – what you turn in should be exactly 2 sheets of paper, no more and no less.
  • Each PSA is worth 6 points on your final grade.
  • You may submit your PSAs electronically or as printed papers, your choice.
  • The grading rubric is posted here and on Blackboard under “Course Resources.”

For more information or for support in improving your PSA grades if writing is the main issue, consult the Writing in History module online in Blackboard, visit the Writing Center, or meet with the History department graduate assistant tutor.

PSAs are due at the beginning of class on the specified date. You can drop one without penalty since only 6 of the 7 are required, but you will get the full credit for all 7 if you turn them all in. No makeups or late work on PSAs.

Comments: I return each graded PSA with cumulative comments from your previous submissions, using whichever format (paper or paperless) you used. I do this so you can track your improvement and have a record of your past feedback throughout the semester.

Paper Submission Guidelines

Paper Option = Hand in your PSA during class on its due date as a printed paper

Paperless Option = Use the assignment portal on Blackboard to upload your paper by the start of class on its due date. Your last name MUST appear in the document’s filename. The attachment MUST be in one of the following formats: .doc, .docx, .rtf, .pdf or .odt. (If you need help with file formatting, check with the IT help desk).

Name your file like this:    Smith_SB2.docx (if your last name is Smith)

Early Option = Submit a PSA before its due date – in class, in my office mailbox (Sullivan 327-D), or via the Blackboard assignment portal.

Not acceptable (no credit) = anything else, like having “printer trouble” or “running out of ink” and not bringing it to class, sending it in the wrong format, emailing it, cut/pasting it into the text of an email, or sharing it as a Google doc.

There are no makeups or late work on PSA papers.