Primary Source Sets

Exploring Topics using Primary Source Sets

What are primary sources?

Primary sources are artifacts resulting from direct personal experience with a time or event. The benefit of using primary sources is that they provide a first-hand account of a person or event that can then provide evidence of that given historical era. Examples include diaries, art, autobiographies, interviews, letters, music, photographs, and speeches.

Primary sources are the cornerstone of historical study. When "real historians" seek to understand the past, they may begin by reading third-party accounts of events, but, ultimately, they go directly to the source of their content. This is because primary sources explain and characterize events and relationships during the time they happened. While students of history may understand a historical era from a retrospective point of view, they must also recognize that the decisions and thoughts of actors during those events occurred in real time. Those living the history in question did not have the advantages of hindsight that we have today. True historians seek to understand historical events within the context in which they occurred.

For these reasons, this website includes general, third-party overviews of events and people that shaped the history of Southern Nevada in terms of water as well as the related primary sources. Like the timeline, the overviews provide context for those who are new to topics within the collection. The artifacts themselves allow advanced and detailed study of those topics. For some who are new to the topic, however, knowing where to begin with the artifacts may prove a daunting task. Therefore, the section includes several "primary source sets." Each set includes sub-collections of artifacts related to single topics.

What are secondary sources?

Different from primary sources, secondary sources are artifacts describing an event written after the event with the benefit of hindsight. They account for events not personally or directly witnessed by the author. Secondary sources result from analyzing a past event based on primary or other secondary sources and include interpretations of the event by the author. Example secondary sources include textbooks, encyclopedias, biographies, monographs, and documentaries.

Primary source sets may be helpful to scholars interested in specific topics, but they will be particularly useful for educators and students. Each set includes pre-selected resources to assist in teaching concepts and content related to the topic of the kit. These resources include:

  • A kit overview;
  • Suggested classroom activities for using the kit;
  • Content-specific vocabulary words;
  • Questions for classroom discussions;
  • Research prompts separated by subject area (intended for use as longer-term projects);
  • An introduction to the kit topic; and,
  • A timeline including additional content and links to related artifacts.


Choose a topic, read the introduction, browse the timeline and artifacts, and experience the joy of learning!

Currently sets are available on the following topics:

If you are interested in developing a new primary source set, contact us!