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Primary Sources

A selective guide to finding primary sources at USC and beyond

Evaluating Primary Sources

It is important to examine primary sources with a critical eye since they represent unfiltered records of the past. Below are some questions to consider once you've found a primary source(s):

RUSA's Guide to Evaluating Primary Sources

  • Who is the author or creator?
  • ​What biases or assumptions may have influenced the author or creator?
  • Who was the intended audience?
  • What is the origin of the primary source?
  • What was the significance of the source at the time it was created?
  • Has the source been edited or translated, or altered in some way from the original?
  • What questions could be answered about the time period by using this source?
  • What, if any, are the limitations of the source?
  • Does your understanding of the source fit with other scholars’ interpretations, or does it challenge their argument?

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?