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Finding Primary Sources

Learn what primary sources are and how to find them.

Evaluating Written Sources

Evaluating sources, whether they are primary or secondary, is an important part of the research process.  Consider the following questions in order to effectively evaluate and gain a more critical understanding of your sources.

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?

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

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?

Adapted from NYU's Primary Sources LibGuide and The Information-Literate Historian by Jenny L. Presnell (New York:  Oxford University Press, 2007).

Evaluating Maps

Maps should be evaluated like other sources, but they can require you to ask different questions.

  • Notice what kind of map you are reading.  Does it describe the topography of an area, the political divisions, climate zones, population demographics, etc.?
  • Consider the author/creator of the map.  Ask who made it, why, and when.  From what perspective is the map drawn?
  • What is the focal point of the map?
  • What is missing from the map?
  • Does the map contain extra text, illustrations, or an illustrated border?  What do these extra elements add to your understanding of the map?
  • Was the map part of a larger collection?

Adapted from NYU's Primary Sources LibGuide

      Evaluating Images

      Old Photo of the Batsto (Pleasant Mills) Church, NJ by Owls Flight

      Images require the same kinds of evaluating questions as other texts, but different types of images require additional questions.

      Photographs
      Where was the image first displayed or published?
      Do the angles, lighting, or cropping suggest a particular bias?

      Art Works
      Is it a single work or part of a larger movement?
      Where was it first displayed and what was the critical reception?

      Cartoons
      In what type of publication was the cartoon published?
      When?  What is the historical significance?
      What is its message?

      Adapted from NYU's Primary Sources LibGuide and A Pocket Guide to Writing in History, 6th ed. by Mary Lynn Rampolla (New York:  Bedford/St. Martin's, 2009).