Lange, D., photographer. (1936) Destitute pea pickers in California. Mother of seven children. Age thirty-two. Nipomo, California. California Nipomo San Luis Obispo County United States, 1936. Feb. or Mar. [Photograph] Retrieved from the Library of Congress,
Primary sources are "fundamental, authoritative documents relating to a subject, ...e.g., original records, contemporary documents, etc." (Young, Heartsill, ed. The ALA Glossary of Library and Information Science. Chicago: American Library Association, 1983, p.176). Primary source documents are first-hand accounts by a direct participant or observer and may include letters, diaries, interviews, photographs, films, maps, government documents, and more.
For the arts, history, and humanities, original primary source documents usually are housed in museums, archives, restricted library collections, and government offices. Reproductions of primary source documents often can be found in online digital collections, microform collections, books, and other secondary works.
When evaluating the credibility of most primary sources, consider these questions:
Historian Oscar Handlin advised first considering the language used by the primary source creator and whether meaning and context had changed. Once meaning is clear, what were the creator's capabilities and possible biases?
...consider whether the witness was in a position to know what he was talking about; ...[if] he had the skill and competence to observe accurately; then whether, if he knew the facts, he would be inclined to represent them fairly, or whether circumstances -- emotional, intellectual, political -- might incline him to emphasize some aspects of an episode and minimize others. (p.24)
Handlin, Oscar, et al. Harvard Guide to American History. Cambridge, MA: Belnap Press of Harvard University Press, 1954.
The Internet can be a valuable resource for your historical research. However, just as with any other research tool, you must know how to use it critically and effectively. Below are some criteria to consider when evaluating websites and digital collections that contain primary sources.
Adapted from The Information-Literate Historian: A Guide to Research for History Students (2007), Jenny L. Presnell, New York: Oxford University Press, pp. 154-155.
|Bayou Building 2402, 2700 Bay Area Blvd, Houston, TX 77058-1002|