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Exploring Lives in World History through Primary Sources

How do historians learn about the past? How is it possible for us to know what happened 10, 100, or 1,000 years ago? The answer is in primary sources: letters, transcripts, speeches, narratives, and countless other documents that form the literal pages of human history. All too often students assume that the events of the past have been perfectly transcribed in their history textbooks; primary sources offer an important reminder that the study of history is hard detective's work.

Primary sources also bring the people and events of the past into personal focus. We can hear the tone of accusation in a witness's written testimony from the Spanish Inquisition. We can feel the exhaustion of Napoleon's troops as they retreat through a brutal Russian winter in the account of Napoleon's personal valet. Firsthand accounts bring the raw emotions and drama of history to life, making them ideal tools for engaged student learning.

The primary sources included in this module are drawn from 500 years of modern history, beginning with the emergence of modern Europe and ending with the dawn of the 21st century. Each primary source is accompanied by two annotations, titled "What You Need to Know" and "A Closer Look." The first section gives a brief description of the primary source and its historical context. The second focuses on what it tells us about daily life, as well as providing an analysis of the source and its significance. Use these resources with your students to add a personal dimension to the study of world history and to practice the evaluation of context and bias in primary sources.


How They Lived (book cover)

Ciment, James. How They Lived: An Annotated Tour of Daily Life through History in Primary Sources [2 volumes]. Greenwood, 2015.ABC-CLIO, publisher.abc-clio.com/9781610698962.


MLA Citation

"Exploring Lives in World History through Primary Sources." History Hub, ABC-CLIO, 2019, historyhub.abc-clio.com/Search/Display/2200360. Accessed 15 Sept. 2019.

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Entry ID: 2200360

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