History 175 (primary source analysis)

Instructions: Read the primary source provided and answer the following questions at the bottom. The length of your analysis should be at least a paragraph or more. These assignments should not be answered in only 3-4 sentences. An excellent analysis will be thorough and detailed, providing a lot of in-depth discussion. Use complete sentences and check your grammar/spelling. Submit your answer as a text entry or as a separate file, saved as a word document or PDF. The grading rubric is posted at the bottom of this assignment page. 

What does it mean to analyze and interpret a source?

When you are analyzing a text, you are breaking it down into parts to understand it. You then interpret each part by explaining it in your own words. You look at what it is, what the author meant, who the intended audience is, how ongoing events during that time affected the author’s argument, and why it is significant. As a result, you are doing more then just directly answering the question below.  


From Frederick Douglass, “The Composite Nation” (1869) 

In a speech delivered in Boston, Frederick Douglass condemned anti-Asian discrimination and called for giving Chinese immigrants all the rights of other Americans, including the right to vote. Douglass’s vision of a country made up of people of all races and national origins—and enjoying equal rights—was too radical for the time, and remains controversial today.

We are a country of all extremes, ends and opposites; the most conspicuous example of composite nationality in the world. Our people defy all the ethnological and logical classifications. In races we range all the way from black to white, with intermediate shades which… no man can name a number… Our land is capable of supporting the fifth of all the globe. Here, labor is abundant and here labor is better remunerated than anywhere else. All moral, social, and geographical causes conspire to bring to us the peoples of all other over-population countries.

Europe and Africa are already here, and the Indian was here before either… Heretofore the policy of our government has been governed by race pride, rather than by wisdom… Before the relations of [blacks and Indians] are satisfactorily settled, and in spire of all opposition, a new race is making its appearance within our borders, and claiming attention [the Chinese]… Do you ask, if I favor such immigration. I answer I would. Would you have them naturalized, and have them invested with all the rights of American citizenship? I would. Would you allow them to hold office? I would

                There are such things in the world as human rights. They rest upon no conventional foundation, but are external, universal, and indestructible. Among these, is the right of locomotion; the right of migration; the right which belongs to no particular race, but belongs alike to all… We shall mold them all… into Americans; Indian and Celt, Negro, and Saxon, Latin, and Teuton, Mongolian and Caucasian, Jew and Gentile, all shall here bow to the same law, speak the same language, support the same government, enjoy the same liberty. 

Analyze and interpret the document to answer the following question(s):

  1. Who is Douglass’s answer to the question, “Who is an American?”
  2. Why does he believe that being able to move freely from one country to another should be considered a universal human right?
  3. Who is his intended audience? 
  4. What is the intention/purpose behind this speech?

TIP: When analyzing a primary source document, consider who, what, when, and why. For example, how does location, current events (of the period), and who the author is play a role in the author’s intent/message? Remember that you are not just answering the question, you are also breaking down parts of the source to analyze and interpret the author’s message.

A successful and strong analysis will provide evidence (specific example from the text/quote) to help explain and support the interpretation. However, do not let the quotes overshadow your own analysis. 

7 to >5.0 pts


Analysis addresses all aspects of the question appropriately with a consistently strong focus and convincing position. It is well-developed, thought out, and detailed.


5 to >3.0 pts


Refers to relevant and accurate content with thorough explanations that demonstrate in-depth understanding of the text.

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