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HIST 398: South Africa's Freedom Struggle: Primary Sources

What are primary sources?

Primary sources are original, first-hand testimony.

They tell the story as experienced by witnesses. Primary sources provide a first-hand account of an event or time period and are considered to be authoritative. They represent original thinking, reports on discoveries or events, or they can share new information. These sources help depict what actually happened - or at least what someone who was there says he or she experienced. These may include photographs, interviews, novels, speeches, letters, statistical data, artifacts or treaties.

Here are some questions you may want to keep in mind when considering the source:
•    When, where, and why was it written?
•    What do you know about the author's role in society or world-view?
•    For whom was it intended? What's its purpose?
•    How typical is this opinion for the period?
•    Is there corroboratory evidence for the author's depiction?
•    What is the context of the document?

Secondary sources comment on, interpret, or analyze primary documents.

The individuals who provide secondary source depictions are somewhat removed from the event they describe. These may provide historical or critical perspectives. They often try to answer the above questions. Secondary sources, like primary sources, offer additional information but are not inherently neutral. You should assess secondary sources as critically as primary sources.

Primary Sources: Overview. SMU Libraries,

Primary Source Collections: South African History

Anti-Apartheid Movement

Oral History Collections

Edited Primary Source Collections

When you search the library catalogbegin with a simple keyword search to identify one or more relevant resources. Keyword terms used to find primary sources can include:

- Personal narratives - Diaries
- Correspondence         - Letters
- Interviews                            - Autobiography
- Memoirs - Maps
- Pamphlets - Speeches
- Sources - Archives
- Archival Resources  


Examples of keyword searches might look like:

Apartheid -- South Africa -- History -- Sources.

Anti-apartheid movement -- South Africa -- History -- Sources.

South Africa -- Politics and government -- Sources.

Mandela, Nelson, -- 1918-2013.

Government Documents