Historical Context

Historical Context

Understand the historical context

In order to analyze primary sources, you need to know the historical context of when a primary source was created. You should be aware of the following.

  • point of view or bias
  • two observers of the same event could have very different perspectives
  • source might not contain accurate or factual information
  • understand historical usage of language

Searching primary source collections

 Eleanor Roosevelt visiting Lucy D. Slowe Hall, women's dormitory for Negro war workers

Click on the photo to view its database record.

Washington, D.C. Eleanor Roosevelt visiting Lucy D. Slowe Hall, women’s dormitory for Negro war workers. May 1943. Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, , [reproduction number, e.g., LC-USF35-1326].


When searching for primary sources, be aware of the language used during the time period being studied and use those terms in your searches.

For example, if you are studying African Americans during WWII, one of the terms you should use in your searches is “negro” or “negroes.” Even though this is not an accepted term today, it was once commonly used.

When you look at the database record, you will see the term “negro” used in the photo caption, but nowhere in the record do you see the term “African American.” If you only searched on “African American,” you would not have found this photo.

Another example during the WWII era is the term “filling station” which was once used for “gas station.”