Skip to Main Content

Philosophy & Strategy for Christian Ministries (CMI 421)

This guide provides resources to help support the CED 421 course and assignments.

Primary Sources - The Basics

Primary Sources 101

The Basics of Primary Sources
  1. There is no single repository of primary sources, however, a multitude of organizations have digital collections and/or archives to varying degrees of professionalism.
  2. Because of the variety in collections of primary sources, there is often limited metadata, which means you will need to familiarize yourself on the terminology and subject tags for each collection. Thankfully, a quick browse around a collection should do the trick.
  3. Though some primary source documents remain undigitized and locally accessible, dedicated archivists and librarians frequently facilitate access upon request (it may cost a little something!).
  4. Embrace the challenge! Primary source material offers an engaging research experience, providing direct insight into the past unattainable through secondary sources. It empowers you to become an active analyst of historical events, applying the hindsight of the present to unmediated information. This valuable approach enriches research across diverse disciplines.
  5. Primary source material will vary by discipline.
  6. Copies, translations, or transcriptions of a primary source still count as a primary source.

Primary Source - Search Strategies

Search Strategies for Primary Sources
  1. Conduct thorough background research and engage in relevant reading to enhance your effectiveness in searching. As your familiarity with terminology, key figures, and relevant locations grows, so too will your ability to navigate information resources effectively.
  2. Utilize overview works (general research tools) like encyclopedias, dictionaries, and websites to acquire foundational knowledge (Wikipedia can offer insights, but note its limitations for academic citation!)
  3. Consider the relevant time period and be mindful of historical communication delays, avoiding overly restrictive search parameters for time-bound topics.

Primary Sources - Database Searching

Database Searching for Primary Sources
  • Many databases offer the option to limit by document or publication type where you can choose Primary Source Document
  • You can use a primary source type such as ‘diaries’ or ‘personal narratives’ or ‘photography’, etc. in an advanced search to limit your search. Use quotation marks (“”) to search for an exact phrase… “personal narrative*”
    • Anecdotes
    • Diaries
    • Pamphlets
    • Photography
    • Portraits
    • Speeches
    • Correspondence
    • Interviews
    • Personal narratives
    • Pictorial works
    • Sources
    • Statistics
    • Maps
    • Newspaper articles from the time period
    • Manuscripts
    • Posters and other ephemera
    • Autobiographical materials
    • Interviews or speech transcripts
    • Oral histories
    • Government documents
    • Etc.
  • Databases also offer the ability to limit to journal articles and specifically peer-reviewed articles.

Primary Sources - Evaluation Strategies

Evaluating Primary Sources


Much like evaluating any source, you want to ask yourself a few questions:

  • Who was the author/creator?
  • When did he/she create the source and why?
  • Who was the intended audience?
  • What is the purpose of the source?
  • What was the context (historical, social, religious, political, etc.) in which the source was created?
  • Has the source been edited, translated, or altered?
  • What are the limitations of this source?
  • How does the account compare to that in other sources, both primary and secondary?
  • Consider the language used by the sources and whether meaning and/or context has changed?
  • What were the capabilities of the author/creator?
  • What are possible biases or assumptions of the author/creator?


Primary Sources for CMI 421