Creating Primary Sources

To learn about history, we look to the records created by the people who were there. We might look at photographs, read a diary or some letters, or listen to a recording of someone speaking. These are all primary sources! When we look at primary sources, we are hearing a real person telling their story in their own way.

Consider the time we live in now--do you think that in 10, or 20, or 50 years people will want to know more about today? In this activity, you will make your own primary source--in the form of a social media post documenting a feeling or aspect of your life during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Definitions

  • Archive: a place where primary source materials are physically or digitally stored
  • Born digital: items created in a digital format, such as websites, emails, social media posts, and digital photos
  • Metadata: information used to describe other information, for example: a title used to describe a book
  • Primary source: material that contains firsthand information about people, places, events, and time periods--as recorded by the people who experienced them

Step 1: Making a Social Media Post

Signs of the Early Corona-Panic

Davio, “Signs of the Early Corona-Panic,” Isolating Together: Portland Public Library

Make (or fake) a social media post on an aspect of your life during COVID.

A fake could be a photograph with some text, a short video, or audio recording--be as creative as you want! You can also create a drawing, comic, or journal entry offline.

Some ideas: 

  • Show how your space or your daily routine looks different.
  • Describe a COVID-era pet peeve.
  • Share something you love, something that makes you laugh, or something that gets you through a hard day. 

For more inspiration, check out our list of Prompts to Inspire Your Words and Images

Document your social media post so that you have a single image, audio, or video file to share.

If you have created your post on an app like Instagram or TikTok, take a screenshot of their image or a screen recording of their video. If you have created something physical, like a drawing, you can photograph or scan your creation.

Step 2: Describing and Submitting Your Post

Fill out the following metadata. Metadata describes what your post is and what it is all about. Include any hashtags you would use when posting your image, audio, or video on social media.

Here's an example:

Working from Home

Piscataquis Regional Food Center, “Working from Home,” Heart of Maine Community Stories

Title: Working from Home

Creator: Piscataquis Regional Food Center

Date: March 30, 2020

Description: Feeling really grateful for the privilege to work from home. And would you look at that CAT? Grateful for the most adorable office view. PRFC has some exciting content to share this week, so stay tuned. In the meantime, we're remembering the simple and humble things that bring gratitude into our lives during this viral time.

Hashtags: #mindfulmonday #prfoodcenter #officeviews #flattenthecurve #maine #rememberinggratitude

If you'd like, submit your post to a Maine Contemporary Archives project, so that it can serve as a primary source in the future. Make sure to have the metadata on hand. You’ll need to enter it when submitting the items.

Use this list to find a participating library near you. Each project has its own Terms and Conditions; get in touch if you have any questions!

Step 3: Reflecting on Primary Sources

  • Do you think the way historians or researchers interpret primary sources is always correct, or do you think there is a chance they confuse or don’t understand the meaning? 
  • Do you think the metadata archivists ask for when you donate something to an archive will help people in the future to correctly understand its meaning?
  • Do you think it will be harder or easier for archives, libraries and museums to save primary sources that are born digital, like most of the stuff we create today? Why do you think that?  
  • How long do you think this post would last “in the wild”? Would you expect it to last very long, or want it to last?
  • How do you feel about people looking at and studying your thoughts and feelings, in 10, 20, 50 or 100 years from now? Is it weird or cool? 

Resources

Library of Congress: Getting Started with Primary Sources

Examples of primary sources created by young people: