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Primary Sources

historical photo

Allen Pinkerton, President Abraham Lincoln, and General McClernand at Antietam during Civil War. 

Explore some primary sources from Utah history.

What is a primary source and why should I care?

Think about all the ways you could learn about the Civil War.

Your teacher might tell you about it. You might read a book written last year about it. You might watch a movie or tv show about it.

But your teacher, the book's author, or the movie director weren't around during the Civil War. They didn't fight in the war. They didn't vote for or against Abraham Lincoln for president. They weren't even little kids at the time (believe it or not).

So your teacher, the book, and the movie are not primary sources.

A primary source was produced or made by someone who experienced an event or lived during the time. It can be made during the event or years later, if it is made by someone who was there.

Put a check by all the things that COULD be primary sources if they help you understand the topic you were studying--AND they were made or used by someone who experienced the time period you are studying.

Letters

A diary

A newspaper article

A child's toy

A photograph

A Fremont pot

A log cabin

Mountain sheep bones found in a 2,000-year-old Archaic-period campsite

Records of a court trial

An oral history interview

Did you check them all? All of these can be primary sources. Of course, a historian and an archaeologist would use different sources. (Archaeologists call their primary sources artifacts.)

If you really want to know what happened in the past, how could a primary source help? In what ways could a primary source misrepresent the truth?

Check out these cool primary sources:

"Our Daily Diary" Third graders imprisoned at the Topaz Internment Camp kept a diary together.

Conflict at Bear River, January 29, 1863 See different accounts of a violent encounter between Shoshone Indians and the U.S. Army, as well as events leading up to that bloody day.

The sale of Fish Lake water, 1889.

The Utah Constitution

Statehood See documents related to Utah statehood on the Utah State Archives website.