What is History?

"A person with no past is a person with no identity."

•History affects today
•It changes all the time
•It is not static -- We're finding new evidence all the time
•There are many different pasts, depending on who's writing the history
•The earliest historians were Greeks

Primary Sources vs Secondary Sources

Secondary Sources
•Writings by historians
•Examples being textbooks, webpages, journal articles, etc.
Primary Sources
•Firsthand evidence that historians rely on to back up claims made in secondary sources
•Provide us with firsthand accounts of what life was life
•From a time different than our own
•Examples being a speech, census, painting, journal entry, clothing, newspaper, song, photograph, letter, etc.
•Eyewitness accounts (oral history interviews, memoirs/autobiographies) even created in recent times are still
primary sources because the memories are from that time period, even if those memories weren't talked about until later
Problems with Source Evidence
•Context from when the source was made matters
•Relating to the last point, we have limited evidence to gather context from for certain time periods
•We have limited time and limited brain capacity to take in these sources
Why Read Primary Sources? Why Bother?
They provide windows into the past.
Until a time machine is invented, historians rely on primary sources to study and observe those they're trying to understand.
Secondary sources aren't always true or objective, though you're trusting them to be as such.
Primary sources allow you to be your own historical detective.

Evaluating Primary Sources

1. Identify the Source
•What is the nature (type) of the source?
•Who created the source, and what do I know about them?
•When was the source produced?
•Where was the source produced?
2. Contextualize the Source
•What do I know about the historical context for this source?
•What do I know about how the creator of this source fits into that historical context?
•Why did the person who created this source do so? (Was it a private document? Who was the intended audience?)
3. Explore the Source
•What factual information is conveyed in the source?
•What opinions are related in the source?
•What is implied or conveyed unintentionally in the source? (Intentional or unintentional vagueness or ambiguity)
•What is not said in this source? Ask yourself, "What did I expect to see here that I didn't see?"
•What is surprising or interesting about this source? What did I learn? What details were interesting to me?
•What do I not understand about this source?
4. Analyze the Source
•How does the creator convey information and make their point? (Humor? Sarcasm? Guilt? An appeal to religion?)
•How might others at the time have reacted to this source? Would the ideas and opinions have been universal at the time?
•How is the world described in the source differ from my world? (Think about the time and place this was created)
5. Evaluate the Source
•How does this source compare to other primary sources?
•How does this source compare to secondary source accounts? (Think about your textbook and accounts you've read by historians)
•What do I believe and disbelieve from this source?
•What do I still not know, and where can I find that information?
Sources: Western Civilization 10th Edition, Volume One to 1715 by Spielvogel
Reading Primary Sources: An Introduction for Students by Kathryn Walbert