HIST 1000: Resistance in History (Johnson)
Interpreting Primary Sources
Analyzing Primary Sources
To help you interpret primary sources, you might think about these questions as you examine the source:
Place the document in its historical context:
1. Who wrote it? What do you know about this person?
2. Where and when was it written?
3. Why was it written?
4. Who was it written for? This is called the “audience.” What do you know about this audience?
Understanding the document:
1. What are the key words and what do they mean?
2. What point is the author trying to make? Summarize the thesis.
3. What evidence does the author give to support this thesis.
4. What assumptions does the author make?
Evaluate the document as a source of historical information:
1. Is this document similar to others from the same time period?
2. How widely was it circulated?
3. What problems, assumptions, and ideas does it share with other documents from the time period?
Primary vs. Secondary Sources
What are Primary Sources?
Primary sources were either created during the time period being studied or were created at a later date by a participant in the events being studied (as in the case of memoirs). They reflect the individual viewpoint of a participant or observer. Primary sources enable the researcher to get as close as possible to what actually happened during an historical event or time period
What are Secondary Sources?
A secondary source is a work that interprets or analyzes an historical event or phenomenon. It is generally at least one step removed from the event and is often based on primary sources. Examples include scholarly or popular books and articles, reference books and textbooks.