UTS Library

Primary Sources: Benefits

In this guide:

Primary sources provide a window into the past—unfiltered access to the record of artistic, social, scientific and political thought and achievement during the specific period under study, produced by people who lived during that period.

1. Develop critical thinking skills

  • Using primary source require you to be both critical and analytical as you read and examine documents and objects.
  • Primary sources are snippets of history.  They are incomplete and often come without context.  They require you to examine sources thoughtfully, and to determine what else you need to know to make inferences from the materials.
  • Questions of creator bias, purpose, and point of view may challenge your assumptions.
  • Primary sources compel you to recognize that any account of an event, no matter how objectively presented it appears to be, is essentially subjective.

2. To acquire empathy for the human condition and deeper understanding

  • Primary sources bring you into contact with the first­hand accounts of events.  They help you relate in a personal way to events of the past and promote a deeper understanding of history as a series of human events.

3. To consider different points of view in analysis

  • History is often perceived as a series of facts, dates, and events commonly packaged as a book. As you use primary sources, you begin to understand that the book may only represent one of many historical interpretations.
  • Primary sources expose you to multiple perspectives on great issues of the past and present.

4. Construct knowledge

  • Scholarly research should be based on facts and observation, which requires the use of primary sources.
  • Inquiry into primary sources encourages you to wrestle with contradictions and compare multiple sources that represent differing points of view, confronting the complexity of the past.
  • We construct knowledge as we form reasoned conclusions, base their conclusions on evidence, and connect primary sources to the context in which they were created, synthesizing information from multiple sources.
  • Integrating what you glean from comparing primary sources with what you already know, and what you learn from research, allows you to construct content knowledge and deepen understanding.

5. To understand the continuum of history

  • By using primary sources, you come to understand that we all participate in making history every day, leaving behind primary source documentation that scholars years later may examine as a record of “the past.”

Adapted from the following source:
Library of Congress, Why use Primary Sources? Teacher Resources, accessed 10 December 2012.