Historians use many different kinds of things to understand people from the past, such as:

  • Newspapers, letters, diaries, and magazines
  • Government records, laws, and business records
  • Photographs, paintings, and art
  • Maps and drawings
  • Music, radio, TV, movies

Historians call these things primary sources. Many primary sources are kept in archives and libraries, where professionals can protect and preserve them. Historians help people to gather the records, photos, and other sources that document their community’s history. They also interview people about their lives and experiences—this is called “oral history.” Most often, historians work with written, spoken, or visual sources, but they also analyze clothing, tools, technologies, and other artifacts. You can learn to think like a historian too.

Our understanding of the past changes over time because we are always asking new questions and uncovering new information. The past isn’t just one story, it’s many stories. 

Historians and archaeologists work together to investigate these stories and share their discoveries with the world. They write books and articles, give talks, create websites and podcasts, and even make films. 

Archaeologists and historians may use different tools, but they share the same mission. Their work helps all of us understand the past better. This knowledge can help us make informed decisions today, and shape a better future.