General Directions for document analysis

Regarding your document analysis essays, there seems to be some concern about “what to write about.” As the assignment says, the focus is on what interesting questions the document raises and might help answer. To give you a small jump-start, here’s a short list of general topics which might be worth considering for many documents:

  • Historical process: Are things changing? Does the author approve or disapprove of change?
  • Politics: who’s really in charge? Is there conflict in the system? How is power and authority determined, shared?
  • Values: what’s important to the author and his/her audience? How are those values translated into action?
  • Gender: Are women treated differently, and how, and how much does it matter? What are the ideal characteristics for a man, or for a woman, of this time/place?
  • Family: How does the family share responsibilities? How are children treated? What is “normal” and how are exceptions handled?
  • Technology: how are people’s lives affected by changing methods of production, communication, health?
  • Economics: What is valuable? How is trade handled? Is the economy changing, and why?
  • Other: How might this document have been received differently by different audiences at the time? Why did this document survive?

These are general starting places. The specific questions you ask will have to come from the documents themselves. Feel free to contact me (office hours in Russ 406F: MWF 10-11, 1-2; TuTh 10-12; email: if you want to bounce ideas around, or get some more clarification.