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REL 295 Abrahamic Traditions: Judaism, Christianity, Islam

Analyzing Primary Sources

Artifact Reading Method

Creator: Who wrote the document or made the artifact?

Context: Where and when was it created?

Audience: For whom was it made?

Purpose: What was the intended use of the document or object?

Historical Significance: How does this object affect our understanding of history?

What are primary sources?

Primary sources are the raw materials of history — original documents and objects which were created at the time under study. They are different from secondary sources, accounts or interpretations of events created by someone without firsthand experience.

-- Library of Congress

Primary Source Examples in the Humanities

  • Letter and diaries
  • Newspaper and magazine articles (factual accounts)
  • Government documents and records
  • Interviews and oral history
  • Creative works like music, painting, and literature
  • Photographs and recordings

Primary Source Examples in the Sciences

  • Articles reporting on original research--typically in peer-reviewed and scholarly journals
  • Results of scientific experiments and clinical trials--should typically include research methodology used

Secondary sources, like biographies, histories, and criticism, analyze and interpret primary sources.