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In the Classroom > Unit Overview > Lesson 3

Lesson Three
Student Essay: Primary Source Analysis

by Susan McGowan

What Is A Primary Source?

Think of a primary source as a "rough draft" of history. It needs to be put in a larger context and not accepted for itself alone.

A primary source is one that was written at the time of the period under study. A primary source can be any one of the following:

  • A written account
  • Diaries, letters, ledgers, account books, notes, vital records, bills, wills, inventories, military records, tax records
  • A published account
  • An account that was published as well as newspapers, books, periodicals, almanacs, cookbooks, broadsides, travel books, children’s literature, novels, poetry, pamphlets, sermons, advertisements
  • An image
  • Paintings, drawings, photographs, lithographs, woodcuts, maps, video, film
  • An artifact
  • Buildings, machines, objects, clothing, weapons, etc.
  • The physical environment
  • The built environment
  • A human being
  • Anyone alive or whose voice and thoughts were captured by an electronic recording may be considered a primary source for their life experiences. They are "eyewitnesses" to history.

***Remember - Just because something is a primary source does not mean it is accurate or truthful. A person may be an eyewitness to an event and still not see it all or understand what they have witnessed.


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