Pop art rendition of a boombox, in quadruplicate

Paper Assignment #3: Primary Source Analysis

The third paper assignment asks you to apply the skills you practiced in the “Difficult Passage” and “Scholarly Debate” assignments in order to analyze a historical artifact (or “primary source” in historians’ terminology), using both conceptual and contextual material from related scholarly sources. 

This kind of paper asks you to consider primary sources as “artifacts not facts,” paying rigorous attention to the context in which they were produced (time, place, authorship) and reading for ambiguity and tension to tease out what the source reveals about that context. As in paper 1, you will need to examine the source closely and attend not only to words/images but also matters of form.

Historians use source analysis to build on and engage with existing scholarship in analyzing your primary source. This paper asks you to draw on the conceptual frameworks and contextual analysis that other scholars have developed. Building on paper 2, you can now think of yourself as engaging in scholarly conversations as a participant. 

We will be using the material from Week 18, which articulates in varied ways with a wide variety of the work we have done in this and previous units. This week focuses on a particular time period (the 1950s, 60s, and 70s) in a particular place (Ghana) in which visions of the present and future were rife with tension, contestation, and projects of building solidarity. [NOTE: Humes faculty may add additional primary source options that draw on related time periods/places]


Write a primary source analysis of one of the primary sources from week 18 to work with:

  • Daily Graphic (Accra, Ghana), July 26 1952
  • Daily Graphic (Accra, Ghana), March 6 1957 
  • Daily Graphic (Accra, Ghana), March 6 1971
  • Portraits by Felicia Abban from the 1950s-70s (choose a small selection)
  • Photographs by James Barnor from the 1950s-70s (choose a small selection)

In the course of analyzing your primary source, engage with BOTH:

  1. One of the key conceptual frameworks from Tsitsi Ella Jaji, “Stereomodernism: Amplifying the Black Atlantic,” in Africa in Stereo: Modernism, Music, and Pan-African Solidarity (Oxford University Press, 2013), 1-22.
  2. An additional scholarly article that provides historical analysis of the time period/place/cultural productions described in your source. You may use one of the sources in the list below or (with instructor approval) a source that you identify using scholarly databases

Note: Instead of thinking of these as two separate tasks, think of engaging with scholarship as giving you a framework from which to analyze your primary source. How does what you’re seeing in the source support, extend, contradict, or add nuance to the conceptual frameworks or historical narrative in the scholarly literature? 

An excellent primary source analysis:

  • Articulates arguments about what the source reveals about the place/people/events that it chronicles (i.e. “what happened”) AND about the way the text was shaped by the people who produced in (i.e. “how the authors told it”)
  • Uses specific evidence from the primary source and explains how that evidence supports claims
  • Uses analysis of the primary source to engage in scholarly conversation
  • Acknowledges the work and ideas of others

Complete a draft and get feedback from at least one source (e.g., writing center) for the final version. You will submit the draft and the final version together on the due date, so make sure you keep a copy of that first draft.

Additional Secondary Sources

Bowles, Laurian. “Dress Politics and Framing Self in Ghana: The Studio Photographs of Felicia Abban.” African Arts 49, no. 4 (2016): 48-57.

Essel, Osuanyi Quaicoo and Emmanuel R.K. Amissah. “Smock Fashion Culture in Ghana’s Dress Identity-Making.” Historical Research Letter 18 (2015): 32-39.

Jaji, Tsitsi Ella.“‘Soul to Soul’: Echolocating Histories of Slavery and Freedom from Ghana.” In Africa in Stereo: Modernism, Music, and Pan-African Solidarity, 147-192. Oxford University Press, 2013.

Mussai, Renée. “James Barnor: Ever Young, Never Sleep.” Nka Journal of Contemporary Art 38-39 (2016): 152-161.

Osseo-Asare, Abena Dove. “Kwame Nkrumah’s Suits: Sartorial Politics in Ghana at Independence.” Fashion Theory 25, no. 5 (2021): 597-632.

Plageman, Nate. “The African Personality Dances Highlife: Popular Music, Urban Youth, and Cultural Modernization in Nkrumah’s Ghana, 1957-1965.” In Modernization as Spectacle in Africa, edited by Peter Bloom, Stephan Miescher, and Takyiwaa Manuh, 244-267. Indiana University Press, 2014.