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Primary Sources  

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Primary Sources
Massachusetts Studies Project store of Primary Sources.

What are Primary Sources?
Types of original resource materials include:

Official Records:
• federal - census, military, and court records, legislation, agency reports
• state - census, state military, and vital records, agency reports, petitions, legislation, court records

• county - probate, deeds, court records

• municipality - tax valuations, town meetings, local census and militia records, voter lists

Personal Records: papers, diaries, family records, letters, etc.

Printed Materials: newspapers, directories, handbills, genealogies, etc.

Oral Histories: interviews, tapes, transcriptions

Material Culture: property such as artifacts, furniture, clothing, gravestones, and real estate; landmarks and landforms.

Images: illustrations, maps, drawings, portraits, engravings, photographs, etc.

Why Use Primary Sources? The Library of Congress's excellent website includes many primary sources including important US documents and photographic collections. They also include a learning page for teachers which cites two reasons for using primary sources:

1. Primary sources expose students to multiple perspectives on great issues of the past and present. History, after all, deals with matters that were furiously debated by the participants. Interpretations of the past are furiously debated as well, among historians, policy makers, politicians, and ordinary citizens. By working with primary sources, students can become involved in these debates.

2. Primary sources help students develop knowledge, skills, and analytical abilities. By dealing directly with primary sources, students engage in asking questions, thinking critically, making intelligent inferences, and developing reasoned explanations and interpretations of events and issues in the past and present.

The National Archives is another major source of primary materials, many related to Massachusetts. They have an excellent Digital Classroom which includes ideas and lessons for teachers. Teaching with Documents, co-sponsored with the Mass. Council for the Social Studies, is a monthly series in the MCSS publication, Social Education and also appears on the Digital Classroom page.

The MSP Resources Database includes over 180 Primary Sources that can be searched under subject and other fields. Check out the complete list in alphabetical order here.



© Massachusetts Studies Project 1997 - 2002