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HIST 037: History and Memory: Holocaust (SC)

HIST 037: History and Memory: Holocaust and the Problem of Genocide (Weinberg) - Spring 2020

Thinking about primary sources

A few things to keep in mind when looking for and working with primary sources:

Context - In what context was the creator of this source working?  What might have influenced them? 

  • For example, if you've found a newspaper article, what was on the cover of the newspaper that day?  What were the advertisements about? 

Audience - Who was the intended audience for this source?

Format - Consider how the format in which you've found the document might impact your analysis. (Often, sources found online will be scanned and/or transcribed.) 

  • A scanned image illustrates what the original document looked like (potentially including handwriting, marginalia, etc.).
  • When a source is transcribed (whether by hand, or by an automatic process called OCR), you'll see the text, but not the layout, design, or other visual information.

What is a Primary Source? (examples)

primary colored housesPrimary sources are firsthand accounts of events or conditions during a particular period, often recorded contemporaneously by participants or observers.

Primary sources are written in the language of the time, not necessarily the language we use now. Choose your search terms wisely, or else you might miss out on the perfect source.

Written documents:

  • Diaries and journals
  • Blogs
  • Letters (correspondence)
  • Speeches and sermons
  • Manuscripts
  • Notes (and other written materials describing experienced or observed events)
  • Autobiographies and memoirs describing experienced or observed events (in hindsight)
  • Newspaper articles
  • Maps

Multimedia sources:

  • Photographs, films, videos
  • News broadcasts and transcripts
  • Audio recordings documenting contemporary events
  • Music, television shows, advertisements

Physical artifacts:

  • Art objects
  • Costumes
  • Buildings, monuments, etc.
  • Public opinion polls, television shows, movies, music, best-sellers, advertisements - anything that provides a cultural, psychological, or sociological snapshot of a certain time period