History Investigators

Historians are a lot like detectives. They examine images, documents, and many other things from the past to figure out how and why things happened the way they did. Historians study people, ideas, events, technologies, cultures, and change all over the world, from ancient times to the present.

How do historians know what people in the past did? 

They examine primary sources–things that people created at that time and place in history. Historians use many different types of primary sources. Here are some of them:

Written Materials

  • Newspapers, magazines, pamphlets
  • Letters, diaries, telegrams
  • Government records, laws, speeches
  • Business and industry records
  • Books, poetry

Visual Materials

  • Photographs
  • Paintings, drawings
  • Maps, charts, diagrams
  • Posters, advertisements

Video and Audio 

  • Music
  • Radio
  • TV
  • Movies


  • Technology, machines, tools
  • Clothing, jewelry
  • Household items

Oral (Spoken) Sources

  • Oral traditions are memorized, spoken narratives that pass down histories and teachings from one generation to the next. Oral traditions are important primary sources for Native American peoples.

Oral histories are spoken interviews with people about their own experiences. The interviews are usually audio recorded and then transcribed (written down).