Brandel Library

HIST 1000: Global Themes - Ghettos (Duncan)

Primary Sources

Primary Source Analysis

"Primary sources are the raw materials of history... Close contact with these unique, often profoundly personal documents and objects can give [you] a sense of what it was like to be alive during a long-past era."
- Library of Congress, Teaching with Primary Sources

Select 2-3 more primary sources focused on a particular Jewish ghetto from the Holocaust era.

Use the Primary Source Analysis Tool from the Library of Congress to make notes. Create a unique notes/annotations for each primary source selected.

Primary sources help you relate to events of the past and promote a deeper understanding of history. Use the questions below to guide your observations and make notes.


  • What do you see? Describe it.

  • Where does your eye go first?

  • What surprised you?

  • What words or ideas are expressed?

  • What other details do you notice?  


  • What tools were used to create this primary source?

  • What feelings and thoughts does the primary source trigger in you?


  • What questions does the primary source raise?

  • Why do you think this primary source was saved/preserved?

  • What else might help you interpret or understand this source?


Consider the provenance of each source, its creator, and its context. Wrestle with contradictions and compare multiple sources that represent differing points of view, confronting the complexity of the past.

Further Investigation:

  • What was happening during this time period?

  • What was the creator’s purpose in making this primary source?

  • What does the creator do to get his or her point across?

  • What was this primary source’s audience?

  • What biases or stereotypes do you see?

Additional Notes
Primary sources are often incomplete. Use prior knowledge or explore the context or era surrounding the primary source(s) selected to identify patterns and construct knowledge.

Questions of creator bias, purpose, and point of view may challenge your assumptions.

Reflect on if/how a particular primary source source relates to other primary sources, secondary sources, or what you already know.


  • How does this primary source and/or further research test your assumptions about the past?

  • Do other primary or secondary sources offer support the source analyzed? Are there sources that contradict it?
    Support your conclusions with specific examples/evidence.

  • How do multiple primary sources foster deepen your understanding?

  • How might you investigate further? 

Content Adapted from Library of Congress: Teaching with Primary Sources, Facing History & Ourselves, and EIU Teaching with Primary Sources

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