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HIST 2990 (Silvestri): The Basics

Primary Sources

Questions to ask about a primary source? is it verified; who is the speaker; where did it take place; context of the source; who was there/mentioned; when was it written

Defining a primary source: 

"A primary source is a document, image or artifact ... created contemporaneously with the event under discussion." (Williams, Historian's Toolbox, 2nd ed., p. 56)

Primary sources are evidence from participants in or eyewitnesses to an event.


  • Diaries, letters, speeches, memoirs/autobiographies, oral interviews, newspaper & magazine articles...
  • Images: photographs, sound & video recordings, maps...
  • Artifacts: coins, receipts, schedules, tombstones, furniture, jewelry, DNA evidence...
  • Public records: birth, death, probate, census records; court cases, official government documents...
  • Creative works:  paintings, movies, statues...


  • Original manuscripts or records
  • Authoritative transcriptions in printed volumes or digital form
  • Reproductions--digital, microfilm, facsimile...

What is Research?

Definition: gathering information; answering questions; notetaking; asking questions

What is a database?

Definition: collection of information; specific reference area; orangranized and searchable

Secondary Sources

Questions to ask about a secondary source?: why is this person writing about this; who is writing about this; what biases might the author have; what are the sources they used; when was it written