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Biographical Perspectives: People Say

Eye-witness and secondary sources produced by contemporaries of a biographical figure offer insight into that individual's social influence and public notoriety. News sources are not, as we often assume, entirely objective. Rather they are dependent on both writer biases and by the view point of the information sources they use. Look for the following types of resources in examining how others viewed an individual at the time they were alive.

Contemporary Criticism 

These are commentaries/opinions written by individuals who lived at the same time as the individual. These may have been published in electronic format as part of the public domain, in reference collections.  More well known titles may be available at a library locally. Older titles may be available via Google Books or through the Internet Archive.

Government Documents

This includes documents related to the activities in which the person was involved. Try online databases that include governmet documents or governmental archives.


Images not only offer a snapshot of reality, but also provide insight into the photographer's point-of-view regarding the subject.

Historical Newspapers 

Available online, historical newspapers and magazines let you learn about the individual in the same way in which the public learned about them at the time they lived.  These accounts can mold public opinion.

You have already noticed that primary sources also include documents produced by other individuals related to or witnessing an individual's life and actions.  These accounts offer important ALTERNATIVE perspectives to hold up against an individual's own account of events.  Contemporaries (i.e. others alive at the same time), provide insight into the impact or effect of what an individual said or did. 

Primary Sources on the Web

Primary Sources for World History

The Avalon Project
Documents in law, history, and diplomacy from Yale University.

Cambridge Digital Library
This is a vast collection of books, maps, manuscripts and journals digitized by the Cambridge University Library.

Google Books
Google books offers a unique opportunity to find older, out-of-print books. You may find works by the individual, themselves, providing insight into their personal point-of-view.

Epistolae: Medieval Women's Letters
A unique "collecting of letters to and from women dating from the 4th to 13th century AD."  Curated and translated by Dr. Joan Ferrante of Columbia University.

Developed by a partnership of some of Europe's leading galleries, libraries, and museums, this collection featues books, manuscripts, diaries, maps, and much more!

Eyewitness to History
A curated index to online primary source documents, sorted by historical period.

Mapping the Republic of Letters
A collection of case studies carried out around correspondence, publication, and travel experiences across geographic areas and time periods.  This project is being carried out by scholars at Stanford University and includes both rich primary source materials and scholarly analysis.

The World Digital Library
An ambitious cooperative project produced by the U.S. Library Congress, UNESCO, and libraries, archives and museums world-wide, this collection allows you to search by place, time period, topic, type of resource (book, journal, manuscript, etc.), language or institution.

Primary Sources for American History

Access Newspaper ARCHIVE
This databases features select content from newspapers across the country on important events.  Use it to compare regional reactions and political bias to events.

American Memory Collection
Primary source collections from the U.S. Library of Congress

Chronicling America
A project of the Library of Congress, this collection provides select access to newspapers dating from 1836-1922.

Making of America
A digital library of primary sources in American social history from the 19th century. The collection currently contains approximately 10,000 books and 50,000 journal articles.

The National Archives
The official archives of American documents produced by governmental agencies.

The Smithsonian Library
Access to select documents and ephemera housed as part of the collections at the Smithsonian Institute.

Library Information and Media Center - Monona Grove High School - Monona, Wisconsin

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