Skip to main content

Summer HUSH: 1. Finding and analyzing a primary source

Step 1 of your research paper

The first stage of your research paper is to find and analyze a primary source. You are looking for something connected to religion, between the years 1492-1865. 

Primary sources include: letters, diaries, journals, memoirs, newspaper articles, cartoons, speeches, manifestos, Government documents, and maps. The source needs to be substantial, not just a paragraph.

Before you start...

Think about what search terms you are going to use:

  • try broad terms and narrow terms eg Protestants and Presbyterians
  • try different ways of saying the same thing eg Quakers and Religious Society of Friends,

What is a primary source?

Primary sources are the raw materials of history — original documents and objects which were created at the time of the event you are studying. They are different from secondary sources, accounts or interpretations of events created by someone without firsthand experience. Primary sources are created:

  • by someone who was present at or involved in the event
  • at the time of the event OR later in a memoir

A primary source is not necessarily your main source!

Why use primary sources?

Primary sources provide a window into the past—unfiltered access to the record of artistic, social, scientific and political thought and achievement during the specific period under study, produced by people who lived during that period.

Coming into close contact with these unique, often profoundly personal, documents and objects can provides a very real sense of what it was like to be alive during a long-past era.

Locating a primary source



Analyzing your primary source

What would Mary Lynn Rampolla do? Read about evaluating primary sources in MLR's A Pocket Guide to Writing in History pp. 12-17.

Use the questions on this note-taking sheet to help you analyze your source.

Email your friendly librarian