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:

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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: 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]

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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!