A primary source can tell you a lot about a specific event, person, or period but they must still be checked for relevance and legitimacy.
Consider what your sources reveal and what they don't.
- Purpose and motives of the author
- Why do you think the author wrote this?
- Who is the author and what might be his/her place in society?
- What evidence in the source tells you this?
- Argument and strategy used to achieve these goals
- What kind of case is the author trying to make?
- Is the author credible? Why?
- Who was the intended audience at the time this was created? Was it meant to be public or private? If so, whom was it meant for? For example, a letter to from a soldier to a mother or wife might mask the atrocities of war. How might the content differ if he wrote to a father or brother instead?
- Presuppositions and values (both in the text, and our own)
- What presumptions and preconceptions do you (as a reader) bring to this text? For example, are there parts that you find objectionable, racist, sexist, but readers of that time period might have found acceptable?
- How might the difference between our modern values and those of the author influence the way you understand the text?
- What does this text tell you without outright telling you?
- How might this text support an argument you've found in a secondary source?
- Relate your source to other texts
- What patterns/ideas regularly appear throughout your sources?
- What major differences appear in them?
- Can these be supported by other primary or secondary sources?