A Newsletter of the White River Valley Museum

July 2004

Primary Sources
at the White River Valley Museum

by Alyssa Shirley Morein, Curator of Collections

  Most of us learn about history through ãsecondary sourcesä like textbooks, biographies, and other history books÷works that are excellent for obtaining the full breadth and depth of a historical subject, and for their synthesis, interpretation, and analysis of large amounts of information.

Such works, however, cannot help but examine events of the past through a modern lens, despite authorsâ aims of objectivity. So we must turn to primary sources, or works created at the time of the event (such as letters, diaries, photographs, and newspapers), to get as close as possible to the truth of what took place at that time. Of course, primary sources are also subject to the authorâs perspective÷but that is part of what makes them so valuable.

Dr. John P. Darstâs birth records, 1912-1960
Dr. John P. Darstâs birth records, 1912-1960.
A student of medical history might use this booklet
to better understand the development of modern obstetrics.

Here at the White River Valley Museum, most of the information in our exhibitions comes from primary sources. We are thankful to have had a number of area residents who thought to record their impressions of life on paper. For example, Harvey and Eliza Jane Jones, two of Auburnâs first white settlers, took pains to describe their arduous journey west, and arrival in the White River Valley, in both a journal and letters to their family. In a letter written shortly after his arrival in the valley, Harveyâs relief is clear: ãI am in my own house on my own land this day of our Lord, writing this letter. My farm is good enough for me· The morning sun strikes it beautifully.ä (The Jonesâ original journal and letters, though since lost, first were transcribed by Harveyâs brother Orlando Sterling Jones. Orlandoâs great-great-great-grandson has loaned that transcription to WRVM.)

The Ladies and Gentlemenâs Etiquette

The Ladies and Gentlemenâs Etiquette: A Complete Manual of the Manners
and Dress of American Society, by Mrs. E. B. Duffey. Philadelphia: Henry T. Coates & Co., 1877. A primary source for the study of social customs in Victorian America.

Connie Malesisâ stories can also be considered primary sources, despite the fact that many of them were published long after their charactersâ times. Connie told the stories of an era he had lived through (though it should be mentioned that he stated that ãin several cases I took what is called Îpoetic licenseâä).

The White River Valley Museum considers primary sources to be of great value to understanding our areaâs past. If you have any such items in your possession, please consider donating them to the Museum for the study and appreciation of future generations.

Alyssa Shirley Morein