Primary Source Analysis: Early Brazil

Early Brazilian Books Project

For this project, you’ll analyze some of the most important 16th-century European accounts of Brazil and its peoples.  You’ll consider how a primary source author’s point-of-view shapes how he or she makes sense of the world, and the lasting power of these first impressions.

This project will:

  • introduce you to editing Wikipedia, and the conventions of writing Wikipedia articles
  • develop your skills finding reliable secondary sources
  • show your ability to analyze primary and secondary sources, considering multiple perspectives

Part I: Collaborative Wikipedia Entry on an Early Brazilian Book (3%)

Together, we’ll be working the Wikipedia entries for four crucial sources about 16th-century Brazil:

Following the guidelines for Wikiproject: Books, we’ll improve these four articles to include a detailed lead (introduction) to the book, a short synopsis of its contents, information about the author, information about the historical context, and a balanced analysis regarding its reception (abiding by neutral point of view).

Students will be evaluated both on the quality of the entry, and their individual contributions to their small group’s success.  All group edits must be posted, and individual group work memos uploaded to Moodle by Friday, February 2.

Part II: Primary Source Analysis (7%)

In this short (750-1000 word) essay, you’ll analyze your primary source’s depiction of Brazil, making an argument about what you think a close analysis of the text reveals about early colonial depictions of Brazil.  In this early account, what did Europeans think was notable, and what similarities and differences would they emphasize?  How do their descriptions reflect the author’s POV and the larger historical context?

The strongest projects will be focused in their analysis. They will make a clear argument about how your primary source should be interpreted (considering perspective, rhetorical intent, audience, the creator’s mindset) to answer a thoughtful historical question.

Approaching the project:

Remember, primary sources reveal as much about the lived experiences and cultural expectations of their authors as they do about the historical events they describe.  Draw on you Wikipedia entry research for information about the author’s point-of-view, the larger historical context, and other historian’s views of the text.

Historians always have to consider how their interpretations fit with the larger historiographical discussions about a question. For this assignment, you must engage with Patricia Seed’s arguments from American Pentimento as you analyze your text.

Don’t just use Patricia Seed’s chapter to glean names and dates for historical events. Instead, make sure that you are presenting the Seed’s central argument, and using evidence from your primary source to either agree or disagree with the larger scholarly conversation.

As always, you must correctly cite all information and include a bibliography. See my guidelines on academic integrity.


  • In grading this assignment, I will consider the strength of your historical analysis of primary and secondary sources as well as your writing ability. You essay must be well organized, concise, and clearly written. I encourage all of you to take advantage of the Writing Center’s excellent feedback at any stage in the writing process.

Essay Format

  • The heading on the first page should include your name, the name of our class, the title of the primary source under consideration, the date, and your word count (excluding the heading, footnotes, and works cited).
  • Upload your primary source essay to Moodle as a .pdf file before 4pm on Friday, February 9. 
  • Essays should be 750-1000 words, double spaced, in a 12-point standard font (Times New Roman, Garamond, Arial, etc.) with 1 inch margins. Stay within the word limit!
  • All sources must be correctly cited using Chicago style formatting.