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DSCI 350M/LIB 350M Humanities Research Data Management

A course guide for Humanities Research Data Management

Analyzing Primary Sources

Analyzing Primary Sources

Analyzing primary sources is like being a historical detective. Lots of questions need to be asked and you need to research and compare objects and sources to make robust conclusions. In order to analyze a primary source you need information about two things: the document itself, and the era from which it comes. You can base your information about the time period on the readings you do in class and on lectures. On your own you need to think about the document itself. 

Looking for more guidance on analyzing primary sources? Visit the How to Analyze a Primary Source page created by Historians at Carleton College. 

Watch this video about analyzing primary sources by History Note'Stache

The 6 C's of Primary Source Analysis:

  1. Content - What is the main idea? Describe in detail what you see.
  2. Citation - When was this created?
  3. Context - What is going on in the world, the country, the region, or the locality when this was created?
  4. Connections - Link the primary source to other things that you already know or have learned about.
  5. Communication - Is this source reliable?
  6. Conclusions - Ask yourself: How does the primary source contribute to our understanding of history?

Quick Questions and Tips to Ask Yourself When Analyzing

1. Identify

  • Specific/important details.
  • Context or events taking place at the time.
  • Why created?
  • Related information (primary, secondary, tertiary).

2. Determine

  • Bias...what's present, what's missing?
  • What did I learn?
  • What questions arise? 
  • Connection to your research.

3. Utilize

  • Synthesize and incorporate into your research.