I have my topic and I know how it is connected to the NHD theme. What do I do next? Build historical context by reading different types of sources...
Nothing in history happens in a vacuum. To understand the connections between your topic and the time period, begin reading about the time period and as you read ask yourself questions: why did my topic happen at this particular time and in this particular place? What were the events or the influences that came before my topic? How was my topic influenced by and how did it influence the economic, social, political, and cultural climate of the time period? All of these questions will help you to build the story of your topic and grasp the historical significance.
While you are researching a topic for an NHD project, you will read different types of sources: tertiary sources, secondary sources, and primary sources.
A primary source is a piece of information about a historical event or period in which the creator of the source was an actual participant in or a contemporary of a historical moment. The purpose of primary sources is to capture the words, the thoughts and the intentions of the past. Primary sources help you to interpret what happened and why it happened.
Examples of primary sources include documents, artifacts, historic sites, songs, or other written and tangible items created during the historical period you are studying.
A secondary source is a source that was not created first-hand by someone who participated in the historical era. Secondary sources are usually created by historians, but based on the historian's reading of primary sources. Secondary sources are usually written decades, if not centuries, after the event occurred by people who did not live through or participate in the event or issue. The purpose of a secondary source is to help build the story of your research from multiple perspectives and to give your research historical context.
An example of a secondary source is Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era by James M. McPherson, published in 1988. They are a great starting point in helping you see the big picture. Understanding the context of your topic will help you make sense of the primary sources that you find.
The primary and secondary sources McPherson used are listed in the bibliography. Another researcher might consult these same primary sources and reach a different conclusion.
To record the information the two acceptable styles of writing for NHD projects are Turabian and MLA. Historians use Turabian but we know that many classes in middle school and high school teach the MLA style. It does not matter which of these two styles you use, but it is important to be consistent. For help with questions of citations, you can check out Turabian or MLA guides from your local library.
An annotated bibliography is required for all categories. The annotations for each source must explain how the source was used and how it helped you understand your topic. You should also use the annotation to explain why you categorized a particular source as primary or secondary. Sources of visual materials and oral interviews, if used, must also be included.
List only those sources that you used to develop your entry. An annotation normally should be only 1-3 sentences long.
- Source (example):
Bates, Daisy. The Long Shadow of Little Rock. 1st ed. New York: David McKay Co. Inc., 1962.
- Annotation (example):
Daisy Bates was the president of the Arkansas NAACP and the one who met and listened to the students each day. This first-hand account was very important to my paper because it made me more aware of the feelings of the people involved.
Classification of primary or secondary source. You should use the annotation to explain why you categorized a particular source as primary or secondary, If that is likely to be at all controversial. Historians do sometimes disagree and there's not always one right answer, so justify your choice to the judges.
Secondary sources which include primary materials. You also may use the annotation to explain that a book or other secondary source included several primary sources used for the paper. Examples: "This book included three letters between person X on the frontier and person Y back in New England, which provided insight into the struggles and experiences of the settlers." "This book provided four photos of settlers on the Great Plains and their homes, which were used on the exhibit." Please note that the materials included in secondary sources, like your text book, are not primary in this instance because they have been taken out if their original context. For example, an image of a painting may have been cropped, or a letter may be missing sentences.
Fuller explanation of credits for documentaries. You are supposed to give credit in the documentary itself for photos or other primary sources, but you can do this in a general way, such as by writing, "Photos from: National Archives, Ohio Historical Society, A Photographic History of the Civil War" rather than listing each photo individually in the documentary credits, which would take up too much of your allotted 10 minutes. You then must use the annotation in the bibliography to provide more detailed information.