About this tutorial
Doing research in the Archives and Special Collections at the University of Minnesota is more than just finding an old document. You will need some skills to effectively investigate and explore everything you find.
After completing this tutorial, you will be able to:
- Understand the importance of using primary sources in your research
- Recognize the features of a primary source
- Apply the Research, Review, Reflect, and Record process to be more successful in all of your research
What are primary sources?
Primary sources are the “raw material” of history
Primary sources are created in the past and have historical research value
Primary sources help you understand past events from a firsthand or insider perspective
Primary sources aren’t just old books, letters, or diaries. They include the full range of human communication and expression, from cuneiform tablets to posters to PDF files.
For any assignment, it is important to use your instructor's definition of primary sources.
Why use primary sources?
We use primary sources because they:
- contextualize historical topics
- give history a voice
- allow you to interrogate and question common historical beliefs and narratives
- are an opportunity to form your own interpretation rather than read someone else’s
- help you get more out of sources, such as books or scholarly articles, by providing additional layers of information
- Finally, they help make your research unique and more enjoyable to write and read!
Primary sources can be difficult to use because:
Their formats may be unfamiliar. For example, what is a telegram?
Their language and imagery may be different or even offensive