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Module 3: How to use primary sources

Step 2: The creator(s).
Who made it?

One of the first things every historian does when encountering a historical document is to consider its authorship. Who wrote, published, photographed, recorded or otherwise made the document? Sometimes this can seem fairly easy and straightforward, such as with a letter: the creator is the person who signed it.

But it can soon get more complicated than this. Who was this person who wrote the letter? What do you know about their position in relation to the events you’re researching? If it is a famous person, answering this secondary question may be easy. But if the person was not well known, you may have to get clues by examining the document carefully and/or doing some further research.


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Telegram, 1942, from Molly Jean stating the house was under quarantine and requesting statement of immunity.

Who was Molly Jean? As with most archival documents, you can learn more about the creator by examining the other documents in the record series. This telegram was in a scrapbook that chronicles Molly Jean Wilson Senniger's life as a Kappa Alpha Theta Sister and member of the class of 1942.

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