Learning to research with Primary Sources

Has your class met with a librarian yet?

We are gearing up for a number of classes with students. We offer a variety of instructional opportunities, but our most common request is to provide students with an introduction to primary source research and the special collections available on campus. Use the resources below to refresh your memory or to learn about research with primary sources.

instructionResearch with primary sources

Web tools

Special Collections and University Archives (find materials now)

ArchivesUM  (archives and manuscripts on campus)

Digital Collections (digitized special collections materials)

Research using primary sources (tutorial)

Other tools

Primary Source Analysis

Newspapers to research topics in 1975

Introduction to Using Primary Sources on Campus (presentation slides)

Contact us – email askhornbake@umd.edu or call 301-405-9212

Analyzing primary sources: Civil War Newspapers

This is one of a series of posts about how to analyze different types of primary sources.

Last week we talked about analyzing literature from the world wars. This week we’re also looking at published material – newspaper images depicting scenes from the Civil War.

Context

During the Civil War, newspapers were a popular source of information about battles, events, and opinions on the war. Radio, television, and the internet were decades away from creation, and photography was still in its early years. Newspapers were dominated by illustrations and articles depicting scenes of the war, which was one of the only ways readers could stay informed about what was happening. Keep in mind national opinions on the war and how newspaper publishers, reporters, and illustrators may have interpreted the scenes they were illustrating and reporting on.

Questions

Below are several pages from 19th century American newspapers. Think about some of these questions as you look at each page:

  • Who owns and publishes these newspapers? What do you know about those companies and/or individuals?
  • Who created these images? What do you know about them?
  • When and where were these newspapers published? How might that affect your interpretation of these sources?
  • Who is the intended audience? What might their beliefs and opinions about the Civil War be?
  • What information can you find out from the text and images in the newspapers’ headers?
  • Who are the subjects of these images? How are they depicted?
  • What contextual information is provided by captions or surrounding text?
  • What do we know about the scenes depicted in these images? How does the artist interpret these events? Do we know facts about these scenes that might support or detract from the accuracy of these images?

[click for larger images]

Further Research

The Harper’s Weekly pages are part of a larger collection of historic newspapers in UMD Special Collections – the Original Newspaper Collection. This collection contains newspapers from 1773-2010 (the bulk of which are from the 19th and 20th centuries). The other page, from the Pictorial War Record, is part of the Demorest’s New-York Illustrated News Woodcut Collection. This collection contains several woodcuts and prints illustrating scenes from the Civil War. You can come in and look at these collections whenever we are open.

Another great historic newspaper resource to check out is Chronicling America, which has digitized copies of newspapers from all over America printed between 1836 and 1922. Anyone can search and view these pages 24/7. If you are a UMD student, faculty member, or staff member, you can also search this database of historical newspapers (available 24/7).

Learn more about the Civil War in Maryland by browsing our collections, or check out this guide about women and the American Civil War (with a focus on Maryland women).

Want more help analyzing and understanding primary sources? You can download our Primary Source Analysis handout or take at look at our “Research Using Primary Sources” tutorial. Need help finding primary and secondary sources to analyze? We’re always happy to help – just ask us! You can also check out our website (we recommend starting your research here).

Sources

Analyzing primary sources: Campus protest photographs

This is one of a series of posts about how to analyze different types of primary sources.

Last week we talked about analyzing literature from World War I and World War II. This week we’re also talking about images in a time of strife, but instead of world war literature we’re going to look at Vietnam-era photographs.

Context

During the late 1960s and early 1970s, students across the nation protested against U.S. military involvement in Vietnam and other Southeast Asian countries. Students at the University of Maryland were no different, and they made their views known on campus and in College Park. Events came to a head between 1970 and 1972, when there were a series of violent protests on campus. At three different points Maryland Governor Marvin Mandel declared a state of emergency and sent in the National Guard to restore order. During the main conflict in May 1970 (students were protesting the U.S. invasion of Cambodia), students vandalized buildings on campus, set fires on campus, blocked Route 1, and threw bricks, rocks, and bottles at riot police. Police responded with teargas, riot batons, and dogs. The photographs below show some of these scenes – make sure to keep the wider student protests and national opinions regarding the military conflicts in mind as you look at these local events.

Questions

Below are several photographs taken at the riots and protests on and near campus. Think about some of these questions as you look at each image:

  • Who took these photographs? Were they involved in the riots?
  • Who is the audience? Were these meant as personal photographs, or were they made public (e.g. – published in a newspaper, book, etc.)?
  • When and where were these photographs taken?
  • What was going on locally, nationally, and internationally at the time these photographs were taken?
  • What is shown in the photographs – is it the whole picture? Are these photographs accurate representations of the events they depict?

[click for larger images]

Further Research

There are many more photographs of Vietnam-era protests in Special Collections. Find more images in University AlbUM – one of our digital collections – by searching for “Vietnam protests” or “Vietnam demonstrations.” There are also several collections of photographs that have not yet been digitized – find information about those collections here.

Learn more about Vietnam-era protests on campus by using this research guide. The guide lists all of the related materials in Special Collections – documents, publications (including student publications), photographs, and more.

Want more help analyzing and understanding primary sources? You can download our Primary Source Analysis handout or take at look at our “Research Using Primary Sources” tutorial. Need help finding primary and secondary sources to analyze? We’re always happy to help – just ask us! You can also check out our website (we recommend starting your research here).

Sources

 

Analyzing primary sources: Literature of World War I & World War II

This is one of a series of posts about how to analyze different types of primary sources.

Last week we took a look at a Confederate soldier’s sketchbook of prison life. This week we’re going to analyze some literature from World War I and World War II.

Context

World War I and World War II were major military conflicts that involved many of the world’s most powerful and populous countries. Each war changed millions of lives and the histories of many countries. Countless individuals were inspired to create literature, poetry, plays, films, music, and artwork interpreting the wars. The books in this post all involve one of the world wars, each in a different way and from a different perspective.

Questions

Below are five different books related to World War I and World War II. Take a look at each book and look up their summaries to find out more information. Think about some of these questions as you compare them:

  • Who wrote these books? Were they involved in World War I or World War II?
  • When and where were these books written? (Note that this version of All Quiet on the Western Front is both a translation and an edition published decades after it was first written – how might that change your analysis?)
  • Who were these books written for? How might that affect the interpretation and representation of the wars?
  • These particular books are all fictional accounts – how might that affect your analysis? How much of the plots are based on facts?
  • How do the illustrations represent the wars? (Hint: Remember to consider the audience, plot, and publication date!)
  • What is the POV for each book? What is implied in the plots?
  • How do these books compare to each other and other war literature? How do they compare to what we actually know about World War I and World War II?

All Quiet on the Western Front and A Farewell to Arms

All Quiet on the Western Front and A Farewell to Arms [click for a larger image]

Further Research

These books are all part of our Literature & Rare Books collection in Special Collections. You can find these books and many more through the UMD Libraries’ catalog (try searching specifically in “Maryland Room Collections, Hornbake Library” to find rare books).

If you are interested in finding more literature created during and after these wars, check out the following books:

Learn more about girls’ series books in the digital exhibit “Girls’ Series Books Rediscovered: Nancy Drew & Friends,” and browse The Rose and Joseph Pagnani Collection of girls’ series books (from 1917 to the present).

As always, you can download our Primary Source Analysis handout or take at look at our “Research Using Primary Sources” tutorial. Need help finding primary and secondary sources to analyze? We’re always happy to help – just ask us! You can also check out our website (we recommend starting your research here).

Sources

Analyzing primary sources: A Confederate soldier’s sketchbook

This is one of a series of posts about how to analyze different types of primary sources.

Last week we talked about what primary sources are and how to analyze them. This time around we’re going to talk about how to analyze a rather unusual sketchbook.

Context

At the outbreak of the Civil War, John Jacob Omenhausser was an amateur artist and candy maker living in Richmond, Virginia. He enlisted in the 46th CSA Virginia Infantry in April 1861, and in June 1864 he was captured by Union troops and sent to Point Lookout – a large prisoner-of-war camp in southern Maryland. Once there, Omenhausser encountered the grim reality of prison camp life – limited access to food, medicine, and clothing and poor sanitary conditions. He was lucky enough to have access to stationery, brushes, and inks – perhaps due to the fact that he had relatives in the North. Omenhausser used these supplies to create illustrations of camp life, often accompanied by captions and humorous dialog. His sketches provide us with a unique look at prison life for a Confederate soldier.

Questions

Below are a few images from his sketchbook (you can find the entire sketchbook digitized here). Think about some of these questions as you look at each page:

  • What do these images tell us about living conditions in a prison camp? What kind of clothing, shelter, and supplies do the prisoners have?
  • Omenhausser often inserted humor into his sketches – is that the case with these images?
  • How do the conditions at Point Lookout compare to other Union and Confederate prison camps?
  • What do these illustration reveal about Omenhausser’s opinion of other prisoners and camp visitors?
  • How do these illustrations contrast with each other and Omenhausser’s other sketches?
  • What do these sketches tell us about the morale in prison camps?
  • How do Omenhausser’s sketches match up with other accounts of life at Point Lookout and other Civil War prison camps?

[click for larger images]

Further Research

These illustrations are part of a larger collection – over 60 images – at Special Collections. You can view the entire sketchbook online in our Digital Collections. Few of Omenhausser’s sketchbooks survive, but there are several collections of his illustrations available online. These include:

Learn more about Omenhausser and Point Lookout in the digital exhibit “Women on the Border: Maryland Perspectives of the Civil War” (also a great source of information and primary sources about women in the Civil War).

Learn more about Point Lookout on the National Parks Service website. There are also a number of secondary sources and printed primary sources about the prison camp available at the UMD Libraries – this catalog search might be a good place to start.

Want more help analyzing and understanding primary sources? You can download our Primary Source Analysis handout or take at look at our “Research Using Primary Sources” tutorial. Need help finding primary and secondary sources to analyze? We’re always happy to help – just ask us! You can also check out our website (we recommend starting your research here).

Sources

Omenhausser, John Jacob. Sketchbook. Maryland Manuscripts collection. Item #5213. 1864-1865. Special Collections, University of Maryland.

Novara, Elizabeth. “‘The Rebels Dream in Prison': Sketches of Women at Point Lookout” Digital exhibit. Women on the Border: Maryland Perspectives of the Civil War. Special Collections, University of Maryland, College Park, MD.

Analyzing primary sources: An introduction

This is the first in a series of posts about how to analyze different types of primary sources.

Let’s talk about analyzing primary sources. First, what are primary sources?

Primary sources are original materials. They are from the time period involved and have not been filtered through interpretation or evaluation. Primary sources are original materials on which other research is based. [emphasis mine, source]

Examples of primary sources include diaries, letters, photographs, newspaper articles and books written at the time, and documents created at the time (everything from birth certificates to business meeting minutes). If you keep a journal about your college experience, Instagram photos of what you eat, or email your parents, those are all primary source documents for 2013. Here in Special Collections, we preserve primary sources so people can use them in their research.

There are a few steps to take when looking at a primary source: identify, contextualize, explore, analyze, and evaluate. These steps help researchers understand the primary source and why it might be relevant to their topic. Let’s use this poster as an example.

Defense billboard poster for June, 1987

Click for a larger image.

Identify

  • What is the nature of the source? Is it a newspaper, a map, a painting, a PDF?
  • Who created the source, and what do I know about him/her/them?
  • When and where was the source produced?
  • How do these factors affect how I consider the source?

Contextualize

  • What do I know about the historical context for this source? (What was going on in the time and place that this source was created?)
  • What do I know about the creator of this source that fits into that historical context?
  • Why did the person(s) who created the source do so?
  • Who was the audience?

Explore

  • What factual information is presented?
  • What opinions are related?
  • What is conveyed or implied intentionally and unintentionally?
  • What is not said in the source? (Are there any obvious points of view, perspectives, or factual information that were left out of this source? Why might that be?)
  • What is surprising or interesting about this source?
  • What do I not understand in this source?

Analyze

  • How does the creator of the source convey information and make his/her/their point? (Is sarcasm used? Are there logical arguments? Is there emotional manipulation?)
  • How is the world described in the source different from my world? (What events were happening? What were common beliefs and opinions of certain population groups?)
  • How might people at this time have reacted to this source?

Evaluate

  • How does this source compare to other primary sources?
  • How does this source compare to related secondary sources?
  • What do you believe and disbelieve from this source?
  • What do you still not know, and where can you find that information?

Now that we’ve analyzed this primary source, we can use the information we’ve gathered in a paper or presentation – maybe in a project about propaganda used during the Cold War. Asking these questions helps us figure out what is going on in this source and what else we might need to know to understand the situation it refers to. Paired with other primary and secondary sources, this document provides valuable information about US opinions of the Soviet Union (or, at least, what the AFIS and DoD project as US opinions).

These steps and questions can be used with any primary source. Use them when doing your research to understand your sources and figure out what other questions you need to answer. Want more help analyzing and understanding primary sources? You can download our Primary Source Analysis handout or take at look at our “Research Using Primary Sources” tutorial. Need help finding primary and secondary sources to analyze? We’re always happy to help – just ask us! You can also check out our website (we recommend starting your research here).

Want to see more documents like this poster? Check out our United States Government Posters collection – digitized and available 24/7 for your convenience.

Make sure to keep following our blog – especially the #UMDStudy posts – for more information on different types of primary sources in Special Collections and how to analyze them!