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Finding Primary Sources

A guide to finding primary sources for History research.

Evaluating Sources

Whether using primary or secondary sources, in print or online, an essential step in the research process is evaluating your sources.  Good scholarship requires careful reading and critical analysis of information.

Basic evaluation criteria for all sources include include the following questions, which were adapted from The Information-Literate Historian by Jenny L. Presnell (New York:  Oxford University Press, 2007):

Author Authority  
Who created the item?  What is his or her affiliation?  What is his or her relationship to the information contained in the source?

Audience and Purpose
Who is the intended audience?  Why was the item created?

Accuracy and Completeness
Is the evidence reliable?  Are the important points covered?  How does the source compare to other similar sources?  What may have been left out?

Footnotes and Documentation
Are the author's sources in secondary and reference literature clearly identified with complete citations to allow you to find the original source yourself?

Perspective and Bias
How do the author's bias and perspective inform the arguments and evidence presented?

 

Image: "Water carnival : Music, dancing, singing.Poster or City of New York Dept. of Parks, announcing water carnival in Central Park, showing stylized lake and lamp post.  Source:  Work Projects Administration Poster Collection (Library of Congress).  Digital ID: http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3b48732