Primary Sources

Evaluating Primary Source Web Sites: Examples

Here are some examples illustrating the need to discover the origin of the documents:

  • From Revolution to Reconstruction
    This website, dedicated to the presidents of the United States and complete with the inaugural addresses, was compiled by the University of Groningen in the Netherlands. The content is from a website at Columbia University - http://odur.let.rug.nl/~usa/P/title.htm . Document sites can be second and third generations removed, like a manuscript that has been copied and re-copied several times over, increasing the possibility that small mistakes will appear.
  • Metasites
    Or, you may find a metasite with links to external documents. The Internet Archive of Texts and Documents provided by the History Department at Hanover College, links to many sources created by the Hanover Historical Texts Project. Some of the material, however, was not created internally. The section on China links only to external documents, identified by creating institution in parentheses. Each of these documents should be analyzed on its individual merits, not the merits of the History Department at Hanover College.

    Examples of good citations:

    • Online Medieval and Classical Library The Chronicle of the Kings of Norway clearly cites “Originally written in Old Norse, app. 1225 A.D., by the poet and historian Snorri Sturluson. English translation by Samuel Laing (London, 1844).”
    • The Avalon Project Letter from Commander in Chief of Allied Forces to Head of Italian Government; September 29, 1943 clearly cites "Source: Treaties and Other International Agreements of the United States of America 1776-1949. Compiled under the direction of Charles I. Bevans LL.B., Assistant Legal Advisor Department of State. Volume 3 Multilateral 1931-1945. Department of State Publication 8484. Washington, DC : Government Printing Office, 1969."

    Images: 1972 document concerning John Lennon and Yoko Ono. Courtesy of the FBI FOIA documents.
    1950 letter concerning Albert Einstein and communism. Courtesy of the FBI FOIA documents on Albert Einstein.