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HIS295: Craft of History: Primary Sources

Thinking about Primary Sources

"Jim Crow laws established a system of white supremacy and discrimination in the United States that lasted from the end of Reconstruction until well into the 1960s. Although virtually all Jim Crow laws are now off the books, their legacy has left African Americans politically and economically disadvantaged."

Moore, William V. “Jim Crow Laws.” Salem Press Encyclopedia, 2019. 

What are some types of primary sources you would expect to find about the the Jim Crow era?


Primary Source Websites

Evaluating and Using a Primary Source Site

1.    Content: Describe the subject and time-period coverage of the site. What sorts of sources and formats are included? What sorts of people or groups produced the primary source materials (average people, politicians, writers and artists, etc)?


2.    Using the site: What’s the best ways to navigate the site (keyword searching, browsing, both)? What are its strengths and weaknesses of the site?


3.    Finally, select a few primary documents, images, or other “artifacts” to show the class; describe how it could be used to gain insight into a historical topic.

Strategies for Finding Primary Sources

I. Find Books that include primary sources.

Examples: Jim Crow America : a documentary historyFreedom rider diary : smuggled notes from Parchman Prison

Where? Find Books


II. Search the web or browse primary source websites, such as those listed on the library's History Subject Guide

Web searching hint: add terms/phrases such as these to your search - primary sources, primary documents, digital library, archive, or specific types of primary sources (letters, oral history, etc).

Example Google searches: jim crow digital library; jim crow laws primary documents; segregation oral history

II. Start with Secondary Sources (books, journal articles) and try to locate primary sources cited in them. 

Try it out here and here.


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