Interested in what primary sources our teachers have discovered? YES


Primary sources are materials that provide first-hand evidence of historical events. They are actual records of things that have survived from the past (e.g., unpublished manuscripts, published materials from the period in which they were written, photographs, maps, letters, artifacts, audio and video recordings, oral histories, posters, newspapers, etc.).

“Primary sources were either created during the time period being studied or were created at a later date by a participant in the events being studied (as in the case of memoirs). They reflect the individual viewpoint of a participant or observer. Primary sources enable the researcher to get as close as possible to what actually happened during an historical event or time period.”

Examples include:
• The Declaration of Independence
• 19th-century newspaper accounts of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination
• Letters exchanged between family members during the First World War
• Pamphlets distributed by feminists during the Women’s Liberation Movement

To learn more about researching primary sources, try University of California-Berkeley's website.


Secondary sources are materials that synthesize and interpret primary sources (e.g. textbooks, encyclopedias, etc.)


Historians ask the following questions about primary sources:
• When and where was the source written or created?
• Who is the author(s) or creator(s)?
• What are his/her purposes? What was at stake for her/him?
• Why was the text written or the object created?
• Who was the audience for the text? What are the tip-offs?
• Is the author reliable and credible? What are useful criteria for determining this?
• How do the values expressed in the source differ from those of our own age?
• What is left unsaid or omitted in the text?
• Is what is NOT said as important as what is said?

Here are some steps to practice when thinking like a Historian:
• Begin with evidence (primary sources) and compare different sources of information in search of patterns.
• From the evidence and inquiry, offer an interpretation.
• Extrapolate from sources to tell a larger story that confirms, denies, or complicates the traditional understanding of some aspect of historical record.
• Remember: Weigh sources, evaluate information, and make interpretations = study of history.

To learn more about historical thinking, try Sam Wineberg and Roy Rosenzweig's Historical Thinking Matters.


SUMMER Institute Partners

Ellis Island Institute
The Ellis Island Institute is a place for life-learning, a place of discovery and reflection located at a world-class historic site, Ellis Island in New York Harbor. The Institute is dedicated to the issues of migration and public health, the themes of Ellis Island, and ones that continue to have particular relevance today.
Ellis Island Museum
The largest historic restoration in U.S. history, funded and directed by The Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation from 1985-1990, transformed the ruins into a national museum of immigration.
The Lower East Side Tenement Museum
A New York City Museum that tells the stories of immigrants who lived in 97 Orchard Street, a tenement built in 1863 on Manhattan's Lower East Side.
Museum of City of New York
The Museum of the City of New York's unique mandate is to explore the past, present, and future of this fascinating and particular place and to celebrate its heritage of diversity, opportunity, and perpetual transformation. A variety of exhibitions, public programs, and publications all investigate what gives New York City its singular character.
Project Partners

American Antiquarian Society (Worcester)
The American Antiquarian Society (AAS) is an independent research library founded in 1812 in Worcester, Massachusetts. The library's collections document the life of America's people from the colonial era through the Civil War and Reconstruction.

Archives and Records/City of Boston
The City Archives is a public trust, which plays a key role in fostering effective and responsible government through management of the lifecycle of records and through sustained access to historically valuable municipal records. These records enable people to inspect what Boston municipal government has done, allow officials and agencies to review their actions, and help citizens hold government accountable. These records are rich and varied sources of information used to answer questions about the past of the City, the nation and society. (from website)

Guide to the Collections and Finding Aids at the Archives Collections of the City of Boston
Boston African American National Historic Site
The site is comprised of the largest area of pre-Civil War black owned structures in the U.S. It has roughly two dozen sites on the north face of Beacon Hill. These historic buildings were homes, businesses, schools, and churches of a thriving black community that, in the face of great opposition, fought the forces of slavery and inequality. (from website)
Boston Public Library
One of the largest muncipal public library systems in the United States, the Boston Public Library (BPL) has extensive holdings as well as services for researchers and visitors.

In the Central Branch library, located in Copley Square, researchers may find original sources in the Fine Art and MusicDivision, Rare BooksRoom (with extensive collections), Norman B. Leventhal Map Center, Government Documents, Newspapers and Microtext, Photographs and PrintsDivision, and Special Collections. In addition, the BPL's website offers online research for historic maps, historic newspapers, other historic documents and objects, and more.

Lawrence History Center/ Immigrant City Archives and Museum
"The mission of the Lawrence History Center is to collect, preserve, share, and interpret the history and heritage of Lawrence and its people."

The collections include holdings of the Essex Company, a textile manufacturing company with extensive sources and finding aids, records of urban redevelopment projects in Lawrence, city and population records (including public health initiatives and city maps), organizational records (including those of unions involved in the Strike of 1912), and additional holdings (including photographs, oral histories, objects, and textiles).
Massachusetts Historical Society
The Massachusetts Historical Society (MHS) is an independent research library and manuscript repository. Its holdings encompass millions of rare and unique documents and artifacts vital to the study of American history, many of them irreplaceable national treasures. A few examples include correspondence between John and Abigail Adams, such as her famous "Remember the ladies"; several imprints of the Declaration of Independence; and Thomas Jefferson's architectural drawings. (from MHS website)

The collections include manuscripts and printed materials, as well as art, artifacts and broadsides. MHS has extensive finding aids for its collections and ABIGAIL, their online catalog.
Massachusetts State Library and Archives
The Massachusetts Archives serves the Commonwealth and its citizens by preserving and making accessible the records documenting government action and by assisting government agencies in managing their permanent records.

Collections include passenger manifests and vital records relating to Boston and the state of Massachusetts.

The Massachusetts State Library is a separate facility with its own set of holdings and online resources. These include government documents (state and federal), legal research aids, and links to state and local history, including information about immigrants to Massachusetts and about genealogical research information. The State Library also has a listing of Massachusetts historical newspapers.
Museum of Fine Arts (Boston)
"The Museum of Fine Arts houses and preserves preeminent collections and aspires to serve a wide variety of people through direct encounters with works of art....Through exhibitions, programs, research and publications, the Museum documents and interprets its own collections. It provides information and perspective on art through time and throughout the world." (from MFA website)

The MFA has extensive collections as well as resources for educators, including creation of online art galleries.
National Archives and Records Administration (Waltham)
"Located just outside downtown Boston, NARA's Northeast Region has its headquarters in Waltham. This facility is among New England's renowned learning centers for local, regional and national historical research, serving Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont. This facility also serves as a Records Center where retired Federal records are stored temporarily and made available for agency retrieval as needed." (from NARA website)

Hints for digital archival research at NARA Northeast

National Heritage Museum (Lexington, MA)
The National Heritage Museum boasts one of the country's finest collections of material and artifacts related to the history of American Freemasonry and fraternalism. We also collect decorative arts, documents, artifacts, photographs and fine art related to all kinds of American history — with particular attention paid to material related to Lexington around the time of the American Revolution. The Museum also collects material related to American history from the 1700s to the present. (from NHM website)

Link to NHM collection information, including online collection search.


New England Historic Genealogical Society
"Since 1845, NEHGS has been the country's leading research center for genealogists and family historians of every skill level. [The] staff of on-site and on-line genealogists includes experts in early American, Irish, English, Scottish, and Canadian research.
"The NEHGS research library, located in Boston, is home to more than 12 million original documents, artifacts, records, manuscripts, books, family papers, bibles, and photographs dating back more than four centuries. This incredible collection provides unprecedented access to information that is simply not available anywhere else. And every week, NEHGS scans and digitizes at least one new database to be made available on-line.... (from the NEHGS website).

Databases available on-line include: Massachusetts Vital Records through 1910, New York Probate Records (1787 - 1835), Social Security Death Index (SSDI), church records, newspapers and periodicals, city and town directories, court records, census, tax, and voter lists, diaries and journals, land records, military records, and published genealogies and biographies. (from the NEHGS website).

To use NEHGS online databases:
Password: probate

Schlesinger Library (Harvard University)
The library's principal holdings date from the founding of the United States to the present and are especially rich in the areas of women's rights movements, feminism, health, social reform, education, professional life, volunteer and civic efforts, family relationships, and travel. Personal documents such as diaries and letters provide fascinating insights into the ordinary lives of women of all ages and pursuits and record the struggles and triumphs of women of accomplishment. Many collections—such as the papers of Charlotte Perkins Gilman and Pauli Murray and the records of 9 to 5: National Association of Working Women—address political, organizational, and economic questions. Other holdings, including popular magazines such as The Ladies' Home Journal, Ebony, and Seventeen, highlight romance, domestic life, adolescence, occupations, religious observance, leisure pursuits, etiquette, and fashion. The library has abundant material bearing on issues around the globe, because of American women's extensive travel and foreign residence. Holdings include a Culinary Collection and the Radcliffe College Archives.

Link to information about the Schlesinger's holdings here, including links to searchable databases of HOLLIS, OASIS, and VIA.
Read more about Finding Aids and the Schlesinger Library collections here.


For more information about the partner sites and their holdings, please refer to this reference guide by Project Historian Pat Reeve. It provides an overview of useful resources in the collections as well as links.