Skip to Main Content

Civil Rights Trail - Primary Sources

What is a Primary Source?

  Primary  Secondary Tertiary 
Definition Original documents created or experienced concurrently with the event being researched Works that analyze, assess, or interpret a historical event, an era, or a phenomenon. Generally uses Primary sources Sources that identify, locate, and synthesize primary AND secondary sources
Characteristics First-hand observations, contemporary accounts of the event, the viewpoint of the time Interpretation of information, usually written well after an event. Offers reviews or critiques Reference works, collections of lists of primary and secondary sources, finding tools for sources
Examples Interviews, news footage, data sets, original research, speeches, diaries, letters, creative works, photographs Research studies, literary criticism, book reviews, biographies Encyclopedias, bibliographies, dictionaries, manuals, fact books, textbooks
Where to Find Archives, databases, online collections, government websites Databases, websites, books Reference collection, reference databases, how-to guides

Analyzing an Image

Images are great resource to take a look at a snapshot in time. They provide quick and concise information about people, places, objects, and events that may be difficult to convey in written formats. If we are lucky, a picture can even record details of everyday life that have not been recorded in written records. However, images need to be evaluated like any other source to determine their quality, reliability, and appropriateness. 

When evaluating sources you want to question its content, visual appearance, and context. Ask yourself these questions: 

Content Visual Context
  • What do you see?
  • What is the image about?
  • Are there people in the image? What are they doing?
  • How is the image composed? What is in the background? Foreground?
  • What are the most important elements in the picture?
  • What meanings are conveyed by design choices? 
  • Are the color, light, and balance true? 
  • Is there copyright or other restrictions you need to consider
  • What information accompanies the image?
  • Does the text change how you see the image? How?
  • What kind of context does the information provide?
  • Where did you find the image? 
  • What information does the source provide about the origins of the image
  • is the source reliable and trustworthy? 

Image from Exercise 

Analyzing an Oral History

It is important to take your time when analyzing any kind of visual object or video. For oral histories, whenever possible break your veiwing up in to ten to fifteen minute segments. Then watch these segments multiple times. Each time you watch a segment ask yourself questions to help you observe, reflection, and question the source. 

Observe Reflect Question
  • What do you notice first?
  • Is the content easy or difficult to understand because of vocabulary or accent?
  • Does it seem like an interview or a conversation?
  • Do you notice any background noises?
  • What other details do you notice?
  • What is the topic or theme of the oral History?
  • What is the tone of the oral history? What impact does that have on the story?
  • What was the purpose of this oral history?
  • Who is the intended audience for this oral history?
  • What can you tell about that person’s point of view?
  • How can you tell if the person giving the oral history have any particular biases?
  • What is the significance of this oral history? 
  • How does encountering this story firsthand change its emotional impact?
  • What can you learn from this oral history?
  • How does this oral history relate to the themes you have been learning in class? 
  • What questions did this oral history answer?
  • What questions were left unanswered? 
  • Think about who, what, when, why, where, how questions.