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HIST 3695 - American City

Professor Georgina Hickey's American City Course (online) HIST 3695

Primary Source - Defined

old-lettersPrimary Sources are materials produced by people or groups directly involved in the event or topic under consideration, either as participants or as witnesses.  These sources provide the evidence on which historians rely in order to describe and interpret the past. 

Some primary sources are written documents, such as letters; diaries; newspaper and magazine articles; speeches; autobiographies; treatises; census data; and marriage, birth, and death registers.  In addition, historians often examine primary sources that are not written, like works of art, films, recordings, items of clothing, household objects, tools, and archaeological remains.*

Abbott Handerson Thayer - "A Virgin"* Rampolla, Mary Lynn.  A Pocket Guide to Writing in History.  New York: Bedford/St. Martin's Press, 2012.  Print.

Is it Primary? Questions to consider:

Begin with an observation of the document in term of it as an object:

  • What type of document am I looking at?  A letter, a financial form, a newspaper clipping, etc.?  It it typed or handwritten?  Does that matter to your understanding of the document?
  • What are its dimensions?  What is its size?
  • Does the document have a color, or scent?
  • Who created this source, and why?
  • Who was the audience for this source?
  • What was this document's original purpose?
  • What was happening when this source was made?
  • Why is this source important?
  • If this source shows a specific point of view about a historical event, is it possible to find an alternate point of view? 
  • What did you find that surprised you about this source?
  • What can I learn from this source that is new to my research?
  • What are some things about the time period of this document that I already know that can help me make sense of this document?
  • Could this same document have been created today?
  • If you have more than one document, how are seemingly dissimilar documents related?
  • What are the assumptions in the documents?  Are they stated or unstated?
  • What is the chronology among the documents in the set?  What is the timeline of the historical moment evident in the documents?

(courtesy of University of Connecticut Libraries)

 

Select Primary Sources - Library and Web

Newspapers - see select newspaper databases below.  Additional are on the library's "Newspapers" link

Statistical information - find demographics on your city.  Additional statistical information (library website)

Digital Images

Other website sources

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