A Documentary Commentary is simply an exegesis of a text, in this case a primary source. A commentary should critically analyse the nature, content, and context of a text. Or, in other words, address questions such as: who, what, why, when, and where?
It is vital that the main thrust of a documentary commentary is an in-depth interrogation of the chosen text. Even a short text can support a detailed and extensive commentary: an exploration of the meaning of key terms in the text; analysis of the purport of the text; and identification and explanation of authorship, amongst many other factors. The commentary also ought to locate the text within its wider historical and historiographical context. What significance does the text have in relation to a historical event? How have different historians interpreted the document?
The question of contextualisation begs the question of how much reading is required for a documentary commentary. There is no specific requirement, but as in all academic work, reading extensively and intensively is a minimal requirement for a satisfactory response. The chosen text should be read thoroughly and understood. Understanding of the relevant historical context would necessarily imply considerable wider reading around the subject in order to support insightful comment, rather than generic banalities.
There is no set structure or outline for a documentary commentary, different approaches can work equally well. However, ensure that the commentary is presented as an argument in polished prose. In stylistic terms, reviews of books in either the Times Literary Supplement or the London Review of Books ought to give a sense of the literary ambition expected.
Note: It is expected that the primary source shall come from the Gale-Cengage database, Slavery and Antislavery: A Transnational
Archive. It should not be one of the texts already identified as a primary source on the Reading List.