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HIS3942: Labor in the Gilded Age and Progressive Era

A Guide for Students in Dr. Steven Noll's History Practicum

Questions for Evaluating Primary Sources

These questions can help you get started with analyzing primary sources.

 Who is the author/creator of the source?

What can you discover about the author/creator? How does their background shape their perspective? What are their biases and unspoken assumptions?

 What is the purpose of the source?​​​​​​​

Consider the type of source. What was the reason for creating it? Who was the intended audience?

 When was it created?

What is the historical context of the source? How does it compare to other sources from the same time period?

 Other considerations for primary sources:

Keep the context in mind.

Questions for Evaluating Secondary Sources

These questions can help you get started with evaluating secondary sources.

 Who is the author of the source?

What are the author's credentials? Does their expertise fit the subject?

 Who is the publisher of the source?

For books, are they from an academic press or a popular one? For journal articles, are they from a peer-reviewed journal? For other types of publications, is there some indication of a peer review process?

 What is the thesis?​​​​​​​

What is the author's central argument? How is it structured?

 When was it written?

How does this source fit into the historiography? Is there more recent research on this subject? Are there older, more foundational sources you should look at?

 Where did the author get their evidence?

Check notes and bibliographies. What primary sources did the author use? What secondary sources did they use? Do the sources support the author's conclusions? Do you know of other relevant sources that the author excluded?

 How does this source contribute to the scholarly conversation?

What new insights does this source provide about the subject? Does the author contradict or disagree with other scholars who have written about this topic? If so, do they address those contradictions?

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