Skip to main content
University of Texas University of Texas Libraries

Digital Projects Using Special Collections

Primary Source Literacy

Primary Source Literacy: Example Learning Outcomes

Incorporated and adapted from SAA-RBMS Guidelines for Primary Source Literacy


  • distinguish primary sources from secondary sources for a research question
  • demonstrate understanding of the relatedness of primary and secondary sources for research
  • articulate possible primary sources for a given research project
  • draw on primary sources to generate and refine research questions
  • understand that research is an iterative process and finding new sources may change the research question

Find and Access

  • identify possible locations of primary sources
  • use appropriate, efficient, and effective search strategies to locate primary sources
  • become familiar with the most common ways primary sources are described (catalog records, finding aids, etc.)
  • distinguish between online resources for locating primary sources (databases, catalogs) and digital archives or digital collections
  • understand that some historical records may never have existed, may not have survived, or may not be collected or publicly accessible
  • understand that existing records have been shaped by the selectivity of individuals (collectors, archivists, donors, publishers, educators, etc.)
  • recognize the policies that shape access to primary sources and the ways these differ across repositories, databases, and collections

Read, Understand, Summarize

  • examine primary sources, which may require new skills (reading a script, font, or language, access to technology, new vocabulary, etc.)
  • summarize key content including how the source was created, by whom, when, and what it is
  • understand that sources may exist in a variety of iterations (excerpts, translations, new publications, new adaptations)

Interpret, Analyze, Evaluate

  • assess appropriateness of a primary source to meet research goals
  • critically evaluate the perspective of the creator (tone, subjectivity, biases, etc.)
  • consider how the perspective of the creator relates to the original purpose and audience of the source
  • situate a primary source in context
  • identify and interrogate the reasons for gaps, silences, and evidence of power relationships in the documentary record
  • consider how those gaps, silences, and evidence of power relationships impact the research process
  • factor physical elements into the interpretation of primary sources
  • consider the relationship between the material elements and the informational content
  • demonstrate historical empathy, curiosity about the past, appreciation of historical sources

Use and Incorporate

  • synthesize a variety of sources in order to construct a research argument
  • use primary sources in a manner that respects privacy and cultural contexts
  • use strong citation practices
  • adhere to copyright and privacy laws



Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic License.