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Kreitzberg Library for CGCS Students

Find Primary Source Materials

An introduction to finding primary source materials.

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?