A PRIMARY SOURCE is something that was created in the past by someone living at that time in the past. For instance, if you are interested in the 1920s, it would be a source created DURING the 1920s. It can be a letter, newspaper article, legal document, speech, diary, etc. from that historical period. It is something by and for the people at the time it was created. A primary source is a first-hand source that tells us something about the time and place it was created. Some examples of typical primary sources:
- Film of Josephine Baker doing one of her famous dances in the 1920s
- Newspaper article dated 1932 about the homeless men during the Great Depression
- Text of a court testimony given by Susan B. Anthony in 1873
- The Supreme Court Decision of Brown v. Board of Education (1954)
- Use short quotes.
- Give details such as names, dates, relevant explanations, etc.
- Use abbreviated citations at the end of your sentences (Hutchinson 3) like so.
All the above items were created back in that historical time. “primary” means “first,” so a primary source is a first-hand source. For our purposes, your source does not have to be the actual document or even a Xerox of the original handwritten document (although it can be). The internet and books of primary documents are filled with replicas of primary documents, typed so you can easily read them. They count as primary sources.
WHAT IS NOT a primary source: something written recently ABOUT the past: An internet article discussing important letters written by Eleanor Roosevelt to her husband, the President; an article written in 1989 describing the Apache War; an online list of an activist’s accomplishments and speeches. None of these are PRIMARY sources.
Steps to Complete this Assignment
STEP 1—Find one PRIMARY SOURCE from the internet or from a book about any topic or person in U.S. history between 1865-1990. (It cannot be a document from your textbook! Research these materials yourself.) Or, if your source is longer – like a novel from the 1890s – then choose one or two chapters that contain details that can answer the following questions about the document. HINT: to find online primary sources. Google your topic and the words primary source or primary document. Example: “Eleanor Roosevelt primary document” should show up many of her speeches or newspaper articles that she wrote. You could also try “Eleanor Roosevelt speech” or “Eleanor Roosevelt newspaper column”
STEP 2—Read the assigned readings for the module that your topic fits into. (example, if it is about the 1920s, then look at the module for the 1920s.)
STEP 3—SECONDARY Sources: Find two (2) secondary sources, one of which may be a reliable scholarly website. The other must be scholarly books or scholarly articles–in print–about the topic of your primary source. A reliable documentary may be one of your secondary sources. No dictionaries or encyclopedias. No children or young adult sources. In addition to your two sources, you will also use your textbook. If you find an article in a database or online at a website that was originally in print in a scholarly journal, that is OK.
STEP 4—TYPE answers to the following questions. Your full length paper should be no shorter than 6 pages to 7 pages (before the citations page) with a font no larger than 12 and with margins no wider than one inch.
STEP 4, Continued: INSTRUCTIONS FOR THE PAPER.
Just type the number and then your answers to these questions. This is NOT an essay paper with an introduction, body and conclusion. Just type the number and your answer:
1. WHAT IS the PRIMARY SOURCE?
WHAT YEAR was it made?
WHO was the person(s) who made it?
WHAT is the full citation (Chicago/Turabian style) of the source (author, title, publisher, year), as well as where you found the source (e.g., a book citation or Title of a webpage and URL if applicable). (total of a few lines)
2. What FACTS ABOUT THE AUTHOR(s) of the document help you to understand the purpose of the document? (OR if the author is obscure, then what facts about the TOPIC of the document?) Look this up in your secondary sources and your textbook. Provide abbreviated citations at the end of sentences where appropriate. (Blake 132) like so – author and page number. If your sources don’t tell you about the author, then do a little additional research to learn. A reliable website for additional info is OK, but cite it in your answer to #7. (about 3/4 to 1 page)
3. What, exactly, was the PURPOSE of your primary source? In other words, why did someone write it, and what did the person hope to accomplish with it? Use BOTH your primary source AND your secondary sources ABOUT THE TOPIC to help you answer this, along with your textbook. (about ½ to 1 page)
4. Summarize the main points in the primary source: What are all the major, specific, DETAILS in the source which the author used to support his/her purpose? (i.e., what are all the specific details that help you understand the author’s purpose, or what details made the author successful in achieving his/her purpose?) (about 1-1/2 pages)
5. What event(s) or arguments related to your topic were important at the time just before, during, or after your document was made? In other words, how does your document fit into the events and arguments of the U.S. at that time? How does your document help you to understand the events or arguments? Use your primary source, secondary sources AND your textbook to answer this. (about 1-1/2 pages)
6. Who had an alternate point of view of the relevant issue at that time? Why—what was the perspective of that different person or group of people? Use short quotes or details from your textbook and secondary sources. (about 1 page)
7. Give full citations of all your sources.
Primary Source CITATION EXAMPLE, Chicago Style: Harris, Elizabeth Johnson. “Life Story, 1867-1923,” An On-line Archival Collection, A project of The Digital Scriptorium, Special Collections Library, Duke University. December 1996, 3-11. http://library.duke.edu/rubenstein/scriptorium/harris/section-03/harris03.html
Secondary Source CITATION EXAMPLE: Palmer, William J. The Films of the Eighties: A Social History. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1993.
- Use information from your reading assignment on the topic
- No long quotes–a sentence or fragment of a sentence only
- Always use quotations marks when copying directly from a source. Mostly, use your own words.
- Plagiarism is easy to catch and anyone caught will receive an F for the assignment and an F for the course.
- Get help from the Writing Center if you need it. Spelling, grammar, punctuation, etc. count.
Just type your name and list the following numbers with your answers.
(1) 1-2 sentences describing your primary source. It should be about someone or an event in U.S. history between 1865 – 1990. What is it, exactly? Who wrote it? When?
(2) What is the main topic related to your primary source? In other words, if you have a newspaper article from 1933 criticizing Eleanor Roosevelt, the wife of the president, because she was publishing a weekly newspaper column, what topic would you want to explore a bit more to understand this document? (Answer: Eleanor Roosevelt as first lady and her activities.)
(3) Complete citation for your primary source, Chicago Style. The left hand column of this website tells you how to write out the citation for a book, periodical (journal article), personal communication, etc: https://owl.purdue.edu/owl/research_and_citation/chicago_manual_17th_edition/chicago_manual_of_style_17th_edition.html
Excerpt from the Laws of Virginia (1643). IN William Waller Hening, ed., The Statutes at Large, Being a Collection of All the Laws of Virginia (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1969), I:242.
Will of John Howland (1672). IN The Plymouth Colony Archive at the University of Virginia, http://www.histarch.illinois.edu/plymouth/howlandwill.html (accessed September 19, 2017).
(4) Complete citation of one secondary source you have found IN PRINT – a book or scholarly article – related to your topic. Chicago Style. No dictionaries or encyclopedias. No children or young adult books. USE Grossmont’s Library
Cynthia A. Kierner, Beyond the Household: Women’s Place in the Early South, 1700-1835. (Ithaca, Cornell University Press, 1998).
Allan Kulikoff, “The Beginnings of the Afro-American Family in Maryland,” IN Aubrey
Land, Lois Green Carr, and Edward C. Papenfuse, eds., Law, Society and Politics in
Early Maryland. (Baltimore, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1977)