Assignment brief: you are being asked to interpret the content, purpose and significance of
the document and to draw upon other historians’ analysis of this or similar documents in
order to do so.
Please use footnotes and include a bibliography in your documentary analysis and follow
the conventions for presenting your work.
The following are guidelines – not every point will be relevant to your own document, but
each of these 3 levels of analysis do need to be addressed.
- Situating the document:
Identify the author as far as possible. What social group are they from (gender, class,
political organisations etc) – are they claiming to represent the views of any one group?
To what extent can the author be said to be representative of a certain group, or speak for
Does the date have a particular significance? Was it written in response to a specific
event? – what was going on at this time domestically/ internationally that may have
informed the timing and purpose of the document?
Type of document –
Political, cultural, literary, secret diplomatic, private etc. What use is this kind of
document to historians? Does this kind of document pose any problems for the historian?
What style is this document written in?
What points are emphasised, and how?
Are any key words used – and how are they used by the author (what meaning are they
given in this context, and what effect are they seeking to achieve?)
Consider use of imagery, metaphor, irony, humour: what effect is being sought by the
author? How does the use of language relate to the message or purpose of the piece?
For example, is it meant to persuade, reassure, enlighten, convince, convert, inform, e
ducate, unify, condemn, cajole, appease, or shock the intended readership?
Audience or readership –
Think about the intended audience – does the author/ speaker intend to reach more
than one readership/ audience? If they reach more than one audience simultaneously,
how does the speaker/ author do this? Are they successful?
Approach the document conceptually –
Does the document lend itself to a gender analysis (how are notions of masculinity and
femininity drawn upon or challenged in the document?); what does the document tell us
about class or about colonial relationships, or about ethnicity, race or national identity?
Does it express Orientalist assumptions (refer to Edward Said here) – or does it offer a
challenge Said’s argument? Refer to historians who have worked upon these themes.
- Placing the document in its wider historical context:
Did the document – or similar types of document – impact upon or inform historical events?
How does the author of the document interpret wider events?
What is the immediate and wider historical context to this piece?
What is the significance of the document in light of contemporary events?
- Placing the documents in its wider historiographical context:
How have historians used this or similar sources to advance an interpretation of Indian/
Are there historiographical debates over the specific issues raised in this source, or over
how such sources should be interpreted? (your document may link to more than one such
Does the document confirm or challenge existing historical interpretations?
How has the interpretation of this or similar documents been influenced by changing
historical focus – e.g. the rise of gender history, postcolonial history, subaltern studies, etc.
(Refer to Lecture 2 – Writing the History of Empire; and to individual lectures and reading
lists as relevant).
What kind of additional sources might be needed to offer a fuller interpretation?