Introduction to Primary Sources

This lesson plan introduces students to primary and secondary sources. Specifically, this lesson will help students learn about all different types of primary and secondary sources and what they can teach us about the past. 

Essential Questions

What role does analysis have in historical construction?

Objectives

Students will:

  • Learn what primary sources are and how they can help us understand the past.
  • Learn what secondary sources are and how they can help us understand the past.

Suggested Instructional Procedures

1) Introduction to primary sources:

  • What is a primary source?
  • Primary sources are original material. They are from the time period involved and have not been filtered through interpretation or evaluation. They are original materials on which other research is based
  • Example: Artifacts, audio recordings, diaries, internet communications, interviews, letters, newspaper articles, original documents, patents, photographs, proceedings of meetings, records of organizations, speeches, survey research, video recordings, works of art, architecture, literature, and music.
  • Specific examples: The Declaration of Independence, slave records, diary of Anne Frank, the Mona Lisa,  but also more contemporary examples such as the O.J. Simpson car chase video, photo of Britney Spears shaving her head, Facebook and Twitter posts, and Mick Jagger’s guitar.
  • Primary Sources vs. Secondary Source – What’s the difference? 
  • Secondary sources are accounts written after the fact with the benefit of hindsight. They are interpretations and evaluations of primary sources.
  • Examples: bibliographies, biographical works, commentaries, encyclopedias, histories, autobiography, textbooks, and web sites (taken from www.lib.umd.edu/ues/guides/primary-sources)
  • Specific Examples: a Revolutionary War textbook, Roots the book and TV show, Anne Frank the movie, non-fiction book on the Holocaust, copy of the Mona Lisa, Time magazine's article on the O.J. Simpson trial, biography of Britney Spears, The Social Network movie.
  • Explain how historians use primary sources to learn about history
  • Historians use all kinds of primary sources to help piece together the past.
  • Example: David McCullough relied heavily on George Washington letters to write his popular book 1776.
  • Stephen E. Ambrose used oral histories from World War II veterans to write his book Band of Brothers.

2) Activity

  • What is a primary source? Worksheet
  • Have students fill out the “What is a Primary Source?” worksheet so they have their own reference
  • Directions:
  • Write the definition of a primary source in the circle. Then write in six different kinds of primary sources and examples.

3) Homework

  • Have students bring in something that will be used as a primary source in the future.
  • Example, a school dance flyer,  a newspaper article, or photograph
  • Have students locate 3 primary sources from the Civil War on Historical Society of Pennsylvania’s website.

Vocabulary

  • Primary Source: Materials from the time period involved and have not been filtered through interpretation or evaluation.
  • Secondary Source: Accounts written after the fact with the benefit of hindsight.