The Value of Connecting to the Past with Primary Sources
The difference between working with a primary source and a secondary source is tremendous in terms of historical value and the feeling of continuity from one period of history to the present. The ability to physically experience a location with rich historical significance or to read the words of a person from the time will invariably offer those of the modern era a new perspective. This new depth will contribute to one’s understanding and appreciation for the importance and scope historical events and people have played in the development of the world in which we currently live.
Primary sources are the original objects and documents that were created and utilized during a specific event or time period. There is a large variety of items that fall into this category, including personal memoirs, archaeological evidence, legal transcripts, photographs, biological evidence, and government documents. Historical autographs for sale by individuals and organizations offer further information about the person and time from which they came.
These are the documents that allow modern scholars to get an intimate look into the lives and events that shaped the history of the world. Reading a letter penned by George Washington, official documents issued by Abraham Lincoln, or missives from Albert Einstein give insight into the intricacies of some of the influential minds in history.
Those passionate about the history of the Renaissance and the historical structures in Italy may find letters between prominent Florentine merchants or bankers offer unique insight. These types of documents can provide a glimpse into the daily life of some of the most important industries in the area during the period.
Connecting to the Past
There are other methods of connecting to the past in meaningful ways in addition to reading texts from the time period. One popular option is to actually retrace the footsteps of a particular person or visit specific event sites most relevant to the development of a time period, war, or movement.
For example, those with an interest in the Civil War period may wish to visit battle sites like Gettysburg, stops on the underground railroad , or the house where the surrender of the Confederate states took place. Individuals interested in westward expansion may wish to drive across the nation making stops at the iconic locations such as Independence Rock, Chimney Rock, Fort Laramie, Soda Springs, The Platte River, Jailhouse Rock, and the Dalles. Those interested in the history of World War 2 may be interested in visiting Pearl Harbor, the Arnhem Bridge, Oskar Schindler’s Enamel Factory, the Warsaw Ghetto, Bletchley Park, the beaches of Normandy, or one of the German concentration camps.
For those who are truly passionate about history, especially specific periods of history, visiting the sites that saw the evolution of events and were witness to the people who shaped the future of nations can be a moving and educational experience of a lifetime.
Documents from the past provide a tangible reminder of the event, person, or time period. These primary sources are not only valuable for the intellectual insight they offer but also as an emotional link to the past.