Why use primary sources?

Primary sources offer great value when interpreting historical meaning for a person or time period. They show students that history is not just about facts and dates.
1. They provide perspectives on important historical issues. History is about finding the truth in our past, and primary sources help us determine what this truth is by reading accounts from multiple perspectives. These first person accounts are unfiltered and have not been edited by others.
2. They develop critical thinking skills because when students use primary sources, they ask questions, make inferences, and draw conclusions. Because some primary sources are incomplete, students must use analytical thinking to determine the meaning and importance of the source. Students must engage in additional research and use prior knowledge to “fill in the gaps” and put information in context. They move from using concrete observations to making inferences about text and forming conclusions based on evidence and reason.
3.   They offer snapshots of local history, and this allows students to engage in a personal way so that they deepen their understanding. We are all involved in making history each day, and we create our own primary sources. Primary sources allow us to touch the past in an authentic way, making it more real for students to engage in human events from history.
4. They challenge assumptions about point of view. Primary resources provide authentic opportunities for students to determine bias, purpose, and point of view in first person accounts.

Essential Questions of these lessons

​• How do we learn about the past?
• How can primary sources help us to understand the past?
• How can primary sources provide a personal connection to the past?
• Why is transcription important?


• to translate 19th century handwriting
• to recognize common terms from the 19th century
• to identify and resolve ambiguity and uncertainty in primary sources when interpreting them, including distinguishing between fact (from the source) and interpretation of the content
• to evaluate bias, purpose, and point of view in primary documents
• to summarize primary sources in order to use their content for historical research
• to interpret the importance of  a primary source for a specific person or time period
• to publish transcriptions