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Loyola University Chicago

Teaching with Primary Sources

Why Use Primary Sources with Students?

Dr. Rhonda Clevenson answers, "Primary source analysis develops students' memory, reason, and imagination to foster empathy for the past, perspectives on the present and the ability to impact the future."

What are Primary Sources?

Primary Sources are connected to an event by time or participation. They include any historical evidence that comes to us directly from the time period or event we are studying. With primary sources there is no “middle man” involved.  That is no historian edited the source or attached their own views to it before it reached us. Archival documents, manuscript collections and photographs are all primary sources.  So are newspaper, magazine or journal articles of the era, if they are first hand accounts written at the time of the event.

Example Activity


Name(s): ____________________________________ Class:_____________

                         Date: _____________


In groups of 2-3 answer the following questions associated with the primary source documents attached.  Support your answer.

1.)  What is the first thing you notice when looking at the Declaration of Independence rough draft?  Why?

2.)  What kind of rights do you think Thomas Jefferson is declaring as inalienable?  (Support your answer)

3.)  When talking about rights being “endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights,” do you believe these rights extend to someone in China, or in South Africa?  Why, or why not? 

4.) The word “Men” is stated that “all men are created equal.”  Using previous knowledge about the colonies/United States of America was that a true statement?  Why or why not?

5.)  In paragraph form, describe the passage highlighted in the Declaration of Independence.   (3 or more sentences)