LATS 470: Latinx Migrations: Stories and Histories

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Emery bitmoji

Emery Shriver
Latina/o/x Studies Librarian

Pronouns: he/they


What are Primary Sources?

Primary sources are first-hand accounts, that serve as original evidence documenting a period, event, people, idea or work. 

Primary sources can be printed materials like books or newspapers, manuscript and archival materials like diaries and documents, artifacts, and audio/visual materials. Primary materials can be found in analog, digitized, and born-digital forms. 

Some examples of primary sources include:

  • Memoirs, speeches, writings, correspondence
  • Papers of a political party, agency, or association
  • Official documents such as congressional hearings and reports
  • Contemporary magazine and newspaper articles
  • Contemporary art, films, literature, and music
  • Contemporary artifacts, such as buildings and monuments

Working with Primary Sources

Primary sources are not neutral. It is important to read primary sources critically and consider the following questions: 

  • Who is the author or interviewee? What is their relationship to the event? How long ago were the events described? What was the creator's place in society?
  • What is the author writing/talking about? What are they not talking about?
  • Why is the author writing/talking about this? What is the purpose of preserving this information? Who is the intended audience?
  • If an oral history interview, who is the interviewer? How does this person's relationship (familial or societal) to the interviewee impact what is said?

Understanding the historical context of the primary sources is very important. Watch out for how your own 21st century values and views influence your interpretation of the source.

For more information on critically reading primary sources, see:

  • Rael, Patrick. "How to Read a Primary Source," Reading, Writing, and Researching for History: A Guide for College Students. (Brunswick, ME: Bowdoin College, 2004)