1 of 23

Slide Notes

DownloadGo Live

History 299

Published on Jan 27, 2016

No Description


History 299

Introduction to Primary Sources

What is a primary source?

Photo by theirhistory

Something written or produced by someone with firsthand knowledge of the event or period in history

Will generally only represent the viewpoint of the author/creator and will therefore be biased towards their views.

Why is it important to use primary sources in historical research?

Photo by Leo Reynolds

A few examples of questions

  • What could possibly make you want to use deadly nightshade drops in your eyes?
  • How could so many people be transfixed by the Nazi idology?
  • What made people think that throwing a witch in the water was a good way to tell if she was guilty?

Primary sources can give us insights into what people actually thought and felt during the time being examined.

Primary sources can help you understand the environment, culture, and prevailing mindsets during these events/eras

What kinds of documents are we talking about?

Diaries, Manuscripts, and memoirs

  • Diary of Anne Frank
  • Origin of Species- Charles Darwin
  • Autobiography of Malcolm X
  • Bossypants-Tina Fey
  • Unibomber Manifesto (manifestos count too!)
Photo by JoelMontes

Letters and Correspondence

  • Letter from a Birmingham Jail-Martin Luther King Jr.
  • Love letters from King Henry VIII to Anne Boleyn
  • Letters home from the front during World War I
Photo by Julie Edgley

Government documents

  • Constitutions
  • Parliamentary proceedings
  • Debate transcripts
  • Presidential addresses


  • Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps
  • Mercator World Map- 1569
  • Congressional district maps

Newspapers and Magazines

  • New York Times article about the Titanic slipping its moorings at the dock and almost colliding with other ships before launch- April 11, 1912
  • New York Times article about the shooting of President Lincoln- April 15, 1865
  • Chicago Daily Tribune article headline "Dewey Defeats Truman"- November 3, 1948
  • An ad from a Victorian era Ladies magazine promoting a tincture to dilate the pupils so as to appear more desirable to men

Visual materials and Artifacts

  • Photograph of Kennedy just before he was assassinated
  • Television news broadcasts of 9/11 bombings
  • Crown Jewels
  • Flyer advocating for prohibition
Photo by sparktography

There are others too. Ask yourself...

  • Was this author/creator directly involved in the event or era you are examining?
  • Could s/he have had firsthand knowledge of what was going on?
  • Have I verified that this source is actually from the time period it says it's from?
  • When in doubt, ask your professor or a librarian.
Photo by xadrian

a fake letter

That letter is from clickhole.com which is a very funny site with obviously fake content. Sometimes it's not so obvious though. So make sure you verify the origins of sources you're using.

Photo by State Farm

So where do I go to find primary sources?

Photo by caperberry.tj

Places where you can find primary sources...

  • Library catalog (helpful search terms: diary, memoir, personal narratives, correspondence, letters, etc.)
  • Archives (physical and digital)
  • Newspaper (print, microfilm, databases)
  • Museums
  • Databases

Some helpful sources

  • Library catalog
  • Research guide- Primary sources for historical research
  • Research guide- News and newspapers

Call numbers for history
D-World History
E-F- History of the Americas

For a full breakdown visit http://www.loc.gov/catdir/cpso/lcco/

Always ask for help if you need it!
or visit the Ask Us section of our hompage

Photo by llauren