Research Guide Contents
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What is a Primary Source?
This differs from a secondary source, which interprets or analyzes historical events, and can be recorded or created anywhere from days to centuries later.
Locating and Evaluating Primary Sources
- Reprinted sources published in books or collections, i.e. diaries, correspondence, speeches. (I-Share or I-Share online catalog found at www.lib.siu.edu)
- Digital library initiatives such as the Library of Congress’ American Memory Digital Library. (internet search)
- Original materials housed in archives and manuscript repositories. (internet search; published directories of archives and manuscript repositories)
The ability to determine the authenticity and research value of primary source material is a skill that needs to be developed over time. There are a number of criteria that should be considered when evaluating each source, including:
- Author/Creator: How well situated was s/he to observe or record the events in question? What was the author’s physical location? Were they an eyewitness or did they get the information from another?
- Content: What is the document about?
- Additional information: What else do you need to know in order to fully understand the document – do you need to look up names, places, dates, and/or technical terms?
- Date of creation: How soon after the event was the record created?
- Intended audience: When, how, and for whom was the record created?
- Potential biases: Is there bias, either in the report or in yourself that must be accounted for? Might the person’s social or economic position have influenced knowledge that could affect the credibility of the record?
- Authenticity: Is it original, digital, reprinted, etc.?
- Reliability: Is there corroboration?
- Is it relevant to your research?