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The 1918 Influenza Epidemic in Prince George: Learning Resource

A primary source analysis teaching resource about the 1918 Spanish influenza epidemic in the Prince George area

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Northern BC Archives & Special Collections
Contact:
Email: archives@unbc.ca

Hours of Service:
APPOINTMENT ONLY
Monday to Friday: 8:30 AM-4:30 PM
Closed Weekends & Statutory Holidays

Location: UNBC Prince George
Geoffrey R. Weller Library
4th Floor (Room 5-423)

What are Primary and Secondary Sources?

Fight the Flu poster

"Fight the Flu!" 1918 Poster from Nanaimo.   BC Archives Accession I-61504

Primary Sources

A primary source is a first-hand account of an event that is created during the time that event took place; they can also be created retrospectively at a later date by a participant in those events. They are original documents and usually don’t describe or analyze other documents. They can also be creative works.

Examples include:

  • Memoirs, autobiographies, manuscripts
  • Diaries, letters, oral histories
  • Speeches, laws, court documents
  • Historical newspaper articles
  • Documented observations, interviews, original research, data
  • Works of art, novels, plays, artifacts
  • Photographs, musical scores

How are they used?

  • Focal point of discussion
  • Used to back up claims or criticisms
  • Evidence for theories and research
  • Historical perspective

Thinking Critically about Primary Sources

Keep Your Eyes Open!

Thoroughly read the document and take notes. Make note of anything that strikes you as important, odd, and/or exciting.

Ask Questions

Ask yourself questions about the document:

  • Who was the author?
  • Why were they writing?
  • What is the context in which they were writing?
  • Were they writing with a particular audience in mind? Is there evidence of bias (political, religious, personal)?
  • When were they writing and who were the writing for? A King or a patron?
  • Was the author witnessing the account first hand or were they recording the experiences of others?
  • What dates, locations, and people are mentioned?

Compare and Contrast Accounts

Just because a document is considered a primary source does not mean that it is an accurate or truthful account of a particular event. In order to get a sense of what actually happened in the past do the following:

  • Look for evidence of bias in the writing. Are there any hints of a political agenda lurking between the lines?
  • If the document is a diary or a memoir, ask yourself questions about the author and their life. Are they being honest or are they writing for posterity?
  • Look at other contemporary accounts of the same event. How do the accounts differ or are they the same?

Evaluate the Source

  • Are you looking at the original text, or has the item been translated by another party? Ask yourself whether or not you can trust their transcription.
  • When possible, go directly to the original text. We know that this is not always possible, but try and compare different translations in order to determine how much the translated text deviates from the original.

Citing Primary Sources

All sources, including primary sources, need to be cited in your work. Here's a guide to citing primary sources: https://libguides.unbc.ca/citing_archives/documents