Describe: How do I read, understand, and summarize primary source documents?

Some questions students will learn to answer

  • What was the original context of this source?
  • Why was this document made like this?
  • How do I accurately identify and describe this document?
  • How was this source originally created, published, or produced?

Learning objectives this module will address

  • Develop the ability to recognize and describe various document genres and formats.
  • Understand how genre and format change over time.
  • Determine if the format of the source is important or contributes to its meaning.
  • Understand the variety and challenges of working with original documents.

Sample exercises that may be used in this module

  • Photo dating game. Learn to identify and date photographs by the processes used to create them.
  • Is that an s or an f? Handwriting transcription challenge. Practice transcribing historical documents.
  • Peer learning with primary sources. A paired group exercise for source analysis and description.
  • Pay me my money: a probate game. Explore probate files, their organization, and uses.
  • Looking at early printed books. Practice describing various formats of early modern printing.