Primary Source Essay

Primary Source Analysis: The Mexican Revolution

In this short (750-1000 word) essay, you will hone your skills as a historian analyzing a revolutionary leader’s description of the political and social climate in Mexico, and their plan to improve the nation.  What does your chosen leader say about conditions in Mexico and how revolutionary action will address them?  You will also argue how you think your chosen primary source should be understood in light of another scholar’s research.

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 about the goals and experiences of participants in the Mexican Revolution.

Remember, your project should not be a mere summation of the contents of your source. Critical analysis goes beyond summarizing to a deeper critique of the source’s implications for our course themes.

Approaching the project:

You may choose to analyze any one of the following sources from our The Mexican Revolution: A Brief History with Documents text:

  • Document #3. Francisco I. Madero, The Plan of San Luis Potosí, 1910
  • Document #4. Emiliano Zapata, The Plan of Ayala, 1911
  • Document #5. Francsico “Pancho” Villa, Dreams for a Future Mexico, ca. 1913

OPTIONAL: some of you asked if you could read the documents in their original Spanish.  I’m including links to the Mexican government’s site commemorating the centenary of their 1917 Constitution. 

  • Francisco Madero, “Plan de San Luis
  • Emiliano Zapata, “Plan de Ayala
  • Francisco “Pancho” Villa, *This one if a manuscript source that the Austrian-Mexican historian Friedrich Katz used in his excellent biography of Villa, so I don’t have access to the original document.*

This exercise will allow you to hone your skills as a historian analyzing a primary source and communicating how you think the source should be viewed in light of other scholars’ research.  I expect you to engage with an argument about how to interpret the wars of independence Mexican Revolution or theorize revolutionary movements from at least one reputable scholarly source.  The outside secondary source can be something we read for class (for example, our readings by James DeFronzo, John Charles Chasteen, Marc Becker, or Mark Wasserman), or you can pick another scholarly source.

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

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.  What are your author’s political priorities?  What aspects of Mexican life are overlooked?

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.
  • Primary Source Essay Rubric LARev FA19

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 9am on Friday, September 13. 
  • 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.