University of Wisconsin–Madison

A Primary Source Paper in Legal Studies

Professor Mitra Sharafi
Legal Studies 450: Law and Colonialism


This assignment aims to introduce you to the challenges of working with original historical sources (i.e. sources written around the time of the event in question), also known as “primary sources.” Your Primary Source paper should examine a colonial law-related personality, event, or phenomenon reported in The Times of London either during the colonial period or with reference to the colonial period. The Times was the leading daily newspaper in Britain and the British Empire from the late eighteenth-century on. It is available online in searchable digital form (1785-1985) and can be accessed via The Times Digital Archive, a database to which UW subscribes:

You can get to The Times Digital Archive through MadCat, the UW Library catalogue. In your paper, you must discuss at least three separate Times articles that relate to your theme. You should also incorporate at least three secondary sources in your analysis. Secondary sources are publications written long after the event by people (typically scholars) who were not present during the period they are discussing. In general, the more primary and secondary sources you can include in your analysis, the better. You may include additional non-Times primary sources in your analysis, but this is strictly optional.


Format and Due Date

Your Primary Source paper should be 8-10 pages long, typed in 12-point font, double-spaced with numbered pages and one-inch margins. It will constitute 30% of your overall grade for the course, and must be submitted electronically via the Digital Dropbox in our Learn@UW course page by midnight on Th, April 10, 2009. If you have questions about the suitability of potential topics for your paper, or would like to discuss the development of your paper at any stage, your instructor is available to meet by appointment. Be sure to document all references by giving full bibliographic information either in footnote/endnote format, or within the text in parenthetical form. Include a bibliography at the end of your paper. The particular citation style you decide to use is your choice. However, your citation format must provide enough information to allow the reader to confirm your references by looking them up in the original sources.


Assessing Your Material

This paper requires you to do more than present a descriptive summary of your Times stories. You should start by summarizing the contents of your stories, but then you will be expected to present a thesis and make an argument with reference to this coverage, using evidence and perspectives from your primary and secondary sources. Aim to provide a critical analysis of the Times coverage of your topic. What questions and insights does the coverage present regarding law, legal professionals, legal institutions, and colonialism? With what larger discussions and debates does it connect, both among scholars today and at the time the source was written? Discuss issues and challenges relating both to the form (or format) of your newspaper stories and to their content. What do these stories say about the press and the British Empire? Can you identify differing perspectives on your theme? (Hint: “Letters to the Editor” are especially useful here.) Consider the ways in which your analysis may intersect with the course readings. Be sure to look for Times obituaries of relevant individuals, and for biographical dictionary entries (see the UK-based Dictionary of National Biography and other countries’ versions).