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Understand Primary Sources -- APPARTS

posted Nov 8, 2011, 4:35 AM by Peter Knowles
Primary sources -- documents from the past, written by someone who lived through the events that are described -- can be tough to understand. The language may be old, and the events that surround the descriptions may have been obvious to the person describing them but are unknown to you. There's just a lot going on around the edges that you may have trouble identifying, and they may be key to helping you understand the primary source. But there are important ways that you can reach a better understanding of the primary source. Here's one tool that can help:

   APPARTS stands for
Author -- Who wrote the document (or spoke the speech)?
Place & Time -- Where and when did it come from?
Prior Knowledge -- What do you already know about the author, place, time, or context of the document?
Audience -- Who was the intended recipient of the document? 
Reason -- Why was it written?
The Main Idea -- What is the main point? (Summarize the key ideas in just a few sentences)
Significance -- How important was the document at the time? How about since then?

As you read a primary source, work your way through it, answering as many of these questions as you can. Keep in mind, though, that the APPARTS strategy is a way to help you understand the document. It is not the point of the document. Instead, use it as you work through the document to help you understand the document itself.