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Michigan State University

WS491 - Fall 2017 - Queer Literary Histories - Kristin Mahoney: What are primary sources?


Handwritten flyer announcing a national student strike, from MSU campus, May 1970

This leaflet circulated on campus in May 1970. It urges students to go on strike to protest the Vietnam War, the shootings of protesters at Kent State University, and the jailing of Black Panther leader Bobby Seale.

In addition to these national issues, the existence of an Army ROTC (Reserve Officers Training Corps) unit on campus was a local component of MSU students' resistance to the war in Vietnam.

What are primary sources?

Primary sources are materials which provide first-hand evidence of an event, a social movement, or daily life in a particular time and place.

  • Common examples are letters, diaries, photographs, and oral history interviews.
  • Primary sources are usually (but not always) recorded or written at the time of the events being discussed.

Secondary sources are materials which provide an interpretation or analysis of events or social movements or the conditions of daily life.

  • Common examples are textbooks, scholarly articles, and encyclopedia entries.
  • Secondary sources are generally composed after the time period being discussed.


Book cover for Prairie Power: Voices of 1960s Midwestern Student Protest

College students all over the U.S. protested the Vietnam War, the shootings of student protesters at Kent State University, the imprisonment of Black Panther leaders, and related issues.

Historian Robbie Lieberman focused his research on protests at universities in the Midwest. Prairie Power was published in 2010.

Michigan State University