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Norwich University Kreitzberg Library

Historical Research Methods: Primary Sources

Primary Source Digital Collections

Historical & Current Newspapers

Evaluating Primary Sources

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?
  • Epistemology
    • 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?