General Primary Source FAQ

 Browse basic questions regarding primary sources and their effective use.

Primary sources are the raw elements of history, including:

  • Letters
  • Manuscripts
  • Diaries and journals
  • Newspapers and magazines
  • Advertisements
  • Speeches
  • Photographs
  • Interviews
  • Recordings (video and audio)
  • Items from “pop” culture

What makes primary sources powerful is that they arrive as they are – with little commentary or context attached. Studied together, however, they help build a complete and very personal picture of how things were, why people believed what they believed or what caused one outcome over another. Students who learn via primary sources examine the past, which informs the decisions they make in their own lives and in our world, today and in the future.

Primary sources provide a window into the past—unfiltered access to the record of artistic, social, scientific and political thought and achievement during the specific period under study, produced by people who lived during that period. Bringing young people into close contact with these unique, often profoundly personal, documents and objects can give them a very real sense of what it was like to be alive during a long-past era. For further information, visit Why Use Primary Sources at the Library of Congress.

Direct access to artifacts, documents and personal accounts allows unfettered opportunities for students to:

  • Practice active reading
  • Engage with subject matter through imagination and inquiry, not just memorization
  • Breakdown and analyze information for context, bias and meaning
  • Develop critical thinking skills and further research strategies
  • Form reasoned, evidence-based conclusions
  • Integrate learning to broaden their world view

Primary sources breed a deeper understanding. Students don’t just learn. They see, feel and think about people, circumstances and historical events in a personal and lasting way.

Simply put, teachers who use primary sources catapult students into high-level thinking and meet the demands of standards-based education in new and creative ways. Primary sources help educate 21st-century citizens adept at:

  • Identifying central questions and core perspectives in any narrative
  • Using visual or auditory data to clarify, illustrate and elaborate upon any topic
  • Comparing and contrasting differing ideas and values
  • Considering multiple perspectives revealed by motives, beliefs, interests, hopes and fears
  • Uncovering social, political and economic contexts for actions, decisions and outcomes
  • Evaluating alternative courses of action, including ethical considerations and consequences

Every day, our world produces an avalanche of unfiltered and often slanted information. Primary sources give students the tools to make reasoned decisions in their daily lives—now and in the future. Students who practice these skills in the classroom become adults better prepared to succeed in our increasingly interconnected and complicated global society.


Browse basic questions regarding the TPS at MSU Denver program.

Teaching with Primary Sources at MSU Denver professional development programs are free to all Colorado K-12 educators, including:

  • In-service and pre-service teachers
  • College faculty
  • Librarians
  • Media specialists
  • Administrators
  • Educational support personnel

No. Teaching with Primary Sources at MSU Denver programs (events, workshops, etc.) are offered FREE to educators.

Those choosing to earn graduate credits for TPS-MSU Denver workshops, however, do pay a fee (cost per credit hour) through one of the available institutions in Colorado (Adams State College, Colorado State University and the University of Colorado at Denver), but it is not a requirement.

As a Teaching with Primary Sources at MSU Denver participant, you join local, regional and national networks of educators committed to using Library of Congress online materials and other digital primary sources to improve learning in the classroom. As your skills grow, mentoring others in this valuable teaching method extends the Teaching with Primary Sources mission. Ultimately, your efforts in this area prepare students to succeed in our increasingly complicated and information-soaked society.

You also have the option of earning possible recertification credit and graduate credit to advance your career. Here’s a recap of what’s available at each level.

Upon completion of Level 1 (Foundations), you earn:

  • Up to $150 to order any of the millions of primary sources found at
  • A USB flash drive with Library of Congress and TPS-MSU Denver materials for use in the classroom
  • Level 1 Certificate of Completion
  • Up to two graduate credits (optional)

Upon completion of Level 2 (Topic Inquiry), you earn:

  • Up to $150 to order any of the millions of primary sources found at
  • Level 2 Certificate of Completion
  • Up to one graduate credit (optional)

Due to the wide range of courses and workshops offered by TPS at MSU Denver, we ask that you simply contact us to inquire and get registered for any upcoming event.

Interested in attending or hosting a workshop? Please contact us.

No. While we encourage team participation, any Colorado educator is eligible to register for any of the workshops, events or other programs.

Yes. Teaching with Primary Sources at MSU Denver offers on-location Level 1 and Level 2 workshops to schools or districts with a minimum of 10 participants. Contact us for details

Library of Congress FAQ

Browse basic questions regarding the Library of Congress.

The Library serves as the research arm of Congress and is recognized as the national library of the United States. Its collections comprise the world's most comprehensive record of human creativity and knowledge. Open to those age 16 and older without charge or special permission, it is the world's largest library and a great resource to scholars and researchers.

Yes. All of the most frequently asked questions from the Library of Congress can be accessed here:

Each collection offers guidelines for citing its materials appropriately, under the heading "Rights and Reproductions" on the collection's homepage. The Teachers Page of American Memory provides guidelines, examples, and links to other resources about citing electronic sources.

Useful Links

LOC Button TPS Button
Network Button TPS Connect Button