Introduction to Primary Sources

This tutorial defines primary sources, explores common types of primary sources, and highlights the differences between primary source and secondary resources while discussing the purpose and use of each.


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When you are investigating

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a topic, individual, or event

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from the past, or are looking for historical insight,

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primary sources provide an unfiltered

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account that you can use to draw original conclusions.

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A primary source is a document or artifact

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that has survived in its original form and

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provides you a first-hand account of the event,

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person, or time period you are researching.

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They are as close as you can come to experiencing something yourself,

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and provide the raw building blocks of historical research.

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Newspaper coverage from the time period of an

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event can reveal in-the-moment misconceptions and missteps.

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Creative works like songs provide insight

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into culture and social priorities.

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Interviews and personal accounts from individuals

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involved in key historical events impart priceless perspective.

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Before you begin exploring primary sources,

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it may be helpful to use secondary sources like biographies, articles, etc.

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to build your background knowledge of the time period

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in question and brainstorm keywords

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that may appear in original documents from the time.

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As you read a primary source, think critically

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and identify who wrote or produced the source,

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when, and for what audience and purpose.

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Ask yourself what unique insight it provides.

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Transform your research.

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Use primary sources digitized by Gale

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from the world's top libraries and archives.

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Talk to your librarian to learn more