What is a “primary source”?


Practice Run, Part 1: Finding Primary Sources

Introducing the “Practice Run”

The bulk of your work in this course will be spent on researching a question, issue, event, or problem connected to “happiness” or “the good life” in which you are especially interested, that focuses on a particular period of American history, and that relies significantly on the study of so-called “primary resources.” The primary purpose of this first three-week module, apart from introducing you to the overall goals of the course, is to help prepare you for this undertaking.

This will be accomplished through two very important activities (part 1 and 2), which you can think of as “practice runs” of sorts for conducting the kind of historical inquiry you will be doing most of this term.

There are two parts to this practice run:
•Part 1: Practice with actually finding primary sources (more information follows immediately below); and
•Part 2: Practice with using, reading, and interpreting a primary source, once you have found it (more information on this activity will be found in the next module document).

Part 1: What is a “primary source”?

First of all, what is a primary source?
In the link http://historymatters.gmu.edu/browse/makesense/ we have provided more info such as http://legacy.fordham.edu/halsall/mod/modsbook01.asp .
about the definition of a primary source as it is thought about in an academic context. There are also links to further relevant information. Click here to go to that document. Once you think you have a grasp on what a primary source is, you can continue on to the assignment. [If you have any questions about this, please make sure you post them in the course discussion space. Of course, as we hope is already clear, we will be spending a good amount of time throughout this course, thinking about primary documents—what they are and how historians use them, so please don’t feel that you have to get it all in one shot!]

Your First Assignment

The purpose of this initial assignment is to give you a little practice finding a primary source using a reliable historical collection online. The required book for this study (U.S. History Matters) contains a large number of appropriate historical collections of primary documents online.

For the purposes of this assignment, choose any such online collection from the book, from any period of American history that is of interest to you. (It could be from colonial times, from the Civil War, from the Great Depression, or from the present day. It’s up to you!) Your task is to find one primary source (from the online historical collection and period you have chosen) that you think has something to do with happiness, either explicitly or implicitly.

Remember, don’t worry, we’re just beginning to think about what happiness means. Also remember that there are many different definitions of happiness, and that there might be a great deal of variation in the language in which “happiness” or “the good life” (or other concepts you think might be related) are expressed. That is, do not think you necessarily have to find a text in which the word happiness is included. It may not be there at all! Indeed, your “text” might even focus on the opposite of happiness, thus giving you clues as to the assumptions about what the good life is.

Once you have found “your” primary source, you should attach the link so that we can all find it. Then, provide a brief explanation (a short paragraph) of it. That is, simply tell us:
1.where you found it (that is, from what collection, e.g., The Abraham Lincoln Papers, Wisconsin Historical Images, National Security Archive);
2.what it is (e.g., a speech by President Adams, a slave narrative, a photograph from a newspaper);
3.and why you chose it (how you see it connecting it to happiness).

As each of you posts his or her link and briefly explain it, you should all be reading each other’s postings. This way we will all have an opportunity to see a wide variety online historical collections and specific documents that you think relates to our theme. Remember a short paragraph is all that is expected.

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