Questions for Analyzing Primary Sources
Adapted from the Library of Congress
1. Who created the source and why? How do you think it was created: spur of the moment act, routine transaction, or a thoughtful, deliberate process?
2. What is the author's intent in creating this document? What is its purpose? Did the author produce the document for personal use, for one or more persons, or for a large audience? Was the document meant to be public or private?
3. Was the information recorded during the event, immediately after the event, or after some lapse of time? How large a lapse of time?
Bias, Perspective, Interpretation
4. Did the author have firsthand knowledge of the event or did the author report what others saw and heard?
5. Was the author a neutral party or did the author have opinions or interests that might have influenced what was recorded? Did the author wish to inform or persuade others? Did the author have reasons to be honest or dishonest?
6. What does this document tell us about the social and political climate of the particular period when it was produced?
7. How does this document support and/or conflict with what you've read in other sources? Was this document addressed in other sources, such as a textbook? If not, why do you think it wasn't included?
8. Briefly explain your response to this document. How do the issues addressed in this document relate to our current social/political environment?
9. Write a question to the author that is left unanswered by the document.
Sample Texts about the Zoot Suit Riots of 1943
The following statement was issued by Ed. Duran Ayres, of the Lost Angeles Sheriff's Office, and was considered key to the Sleepy Lagoon case.
"The biological basis," said Mr. Ayres, "is the main basis to work from...When the Spaniards conquered Mexico thy found an organized society composed of many tribes of Indians ruled over by the Aztecs who were given over to human sacrifice. Historians record that as many as 30,000 Indians were sacrificed... in one day, their bodies... opened by stone knives and their hearts torn out. ... This total disregard for human life has always been universal throughout the Americas among the Indian population, which of course is well known to everyone. ... This Mexican element... knows and feels... a desire to use a knife or some lethal weapon. ... His desire is to kill or at least let blood."
The following excerpt is form the Los Angeles Examiner, June 10, 1943 news story, "Police Must Clean Up L.A. Hoodlumism."
"Riotous disturbances of the past week in Los Angeles by zoot suit hoodlums have inflicted a deep humiliating wound on the reputation of the city. Los Angeles has been disgraced, and it is up to Los Angeles to move with the utmost speed and firmness to retrieve its character as a peaceful and orderly community... The record already reveals killings, stabbings, and cases of innocent women having been molested by zoot suit gangsters. ..