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Analyzing Primary Source Documents: Gandhi, Hind Swaraj (Essay Sample)


Analyzing primary source documents

 (Adapted from the Library of Congress, http://memory(dot)loc(dot)gov/ammem/ndlpedu/lessons/99/billy/analyze.html )

 The aim of this essay-writing assignment is to develop an understanding of the interpretive aspects of historical research and experience the historian's dilemma of assessing the credibility of a primary source.

Researchers also will come to the realization that the frame of reference for the production of the source can influence the researcher's attempt to gain a true perspective of historical events and/or personalities.

Primary sources can provide valuable information about historical figures and events, but it is important for researchers to develop a series of questions that will be useful in assessing the validity of the documents. Consider the following questions in your analysis of the document/s to achieve a more effective use of the primary source document/s.

Organize your thoughts and responses as an essay, with an argument, in which you make points to support the argument, and back up the points with evidence from the sources. (See below for instructions on how to cite your sources.)


  1. What type of document is it: letter, court record, diary, newspaper, broadside, government record, interview, etc.?
  2. What was the origin of the document?
  3. Can the author be identified?
  4. When was the document created?
  5. For what audience was the document created?
  6. Why was the document created?


  1. Read through the document once to get a general idea of the content.
  2. Next, read the document more slowly. Divide it into smaller segments. What information does the document contain with reference to lifestyle, governmental affairs, historical events, economics, laws, beliefs, etc.?
  3. If the document is not dated, can you determine an approximate date from the information contained within the document?


  1. Is the information given in the document reliable? How do you know? If this were a longer research paper, what other sources could you use to verify the document's accuracy?
  2. Did the author take part in the event or was he/she reporting what others had said? If s/he took part, how so?
  3. Did the author have a positive or negative interest in the events? How can you tell?

Determine Its Usefulness:

  1. What information from this document is useful for the development of your topic? Or, what argument about the document, author, event/s, or context can you begin to make from the document/s? Support the argument with evidence from the document/s.
  2. What does this information add to the development or analysis of your topic? How can incorrect information or a biased viewpoint be used in your analysis of your topic?
  3. What other questions or lines of inquiry does this document suggest?


In your 2-3 page essays for class, you MUST cite the sources of your ideas and information if they do not come directly from your own head.

(Not citing the source of ideas and information is plagiarism and may result in failing the assignment.On how to avoid plagiarism, see http://libweb(dot)lib(dot)buffalo(dot)edu/guide/guide.asp?ID=58)

To cite the source of ideas or information, use ENDNOTES (convert footnotes to endnotes).

Use the proper format. For a guide to the format, see the Chicago  Maual of Style/ Turabian guide at the website below, used by historians. It shows the format for notes, and for bibliography.You need to make both.



Submit your essay through the course website's plagiarism checker under "assignments" on our course webpage.


Gandhi, Hind Swaraj Essay
The Indian Home Rule (Hind Swaraj) was a book written by Mahatma Gandhi in the form of a dialogue between the reader and editor, outlining his philosophy and political activities calling for the end of the British rule and self determination for an Indian state (Gandhi, 1908). On the philosophical viewpoints, the author identifies some of the problems that affected humanity, while calling for joint efforts to help the new state to tackle the emerging issues. The book is an English adaptation of the Gujarati version, and it goes on to highlight the peculiar political landscape of South Asian politics before the division of Pakistan and India into two distinct countries. Gandhi's main audience was the Indian people, British rulers and other anti-colonial supporters in South-East Asia.
In the book, Gandhi implied that India was a nation that existed before the British Raj ruled the Indian people, with similar mode of life, while there were kingdoms that had existed. In the dialogue Gandhi further mentions the religious motivation for the book as a Hindu who believed that other should be respected, but the Hindu identity also brought the people together. The Partition of Bengal was a recurring theme that inspired fellow Indians to fight against the injustice and Gandhi talked about this in the second chapter (Gandhi, 1908). The book was written in the early 20th century with events focusing on the British rule. The first section critiques the Britis...
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