This guide offers an authoritative outlook on teaching with primary sources. Aimed at The University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona students and faculty, this guide will make clear the importance of primary resources, teaching with said resources and accessing these in the West Indies and Special Collections (WISC) of the Mona Library.
The WISC invites faculty in for physical or virtual class visits. Students are afforded the opportunity to appreciate the nuances of the different types of resources and how these relate to a variety of disciplines.
Above, students of the West Indian Literature, Special Author: Louise Bennett course - LITS 3501 (left) and Introduction to Caribbean Philosophy - PHIL2025 (right) spent sessions discussing the primary pieces within collections such as Jamaican cultural icon Louise Bennett-Coverley and veteran South African writer and broadcaster Peter Abrahams.
To schedule a visit, please email the WISC - firstname.lastname@example.org.
Browse this guide to:
Primary sources provide first-hand accounts of an event, landscape or people from the experiences of those directly involved. In contrast, secondary sources often give a synthesized version of a primary resource, offering some a base for further discussion based on the critique.
Primary sources often provide opportunity to develop original research across disciplines from these first accounts.
The 2015 publication of the ACRL framework cites information literacy as “…the set of integrated abilities encompassing the reflective discovery of information, the understanding of how information is produced and valued, and the use of information in creating new knowledge and participating ethically in communities of learning”.
Traditionally, information literacy focused on offering instructions for library skills and specific courses, but within the realm of The WISC at Mona, the proper use of our primary resources is critical.
Primary sources within the WISC of The UWI Mona Library include rare books, photographs, diaries and maps from the 17th to 21st century.
Sir Hans Sloane’s Voyage to the Islands of Madera, Barbados… and Jamaica, published two volumes, is an example of a primary source in the WISC. Published in 1715, Sloane gives a natural history journey of the voyage. His drawings of the flora and fauna of these islands can complement scientific research into the existence or extinction of some of these species.
Thomas Thistlewood’s diaries, copies of which are held in the WISC, is a representation of life in the mid to late 1700s plantation society of Jamaica. His daily activities are logged at length from his arrival in 1750 through to his death in 1786. The diaries have been repackaged with a selection of the entries published by West Indian historian, Douglas Gordon Hall In Miserable Slavery: Thomas Thistlewood in Jamaica 1750 - 86. Douglas’ work also included commentary in analysis of the information conveyed in the diaries.
Trevor Burnard soon came with “Mastery, Tyranny, and Desire: Thomas Thistlewood and His Slaves in the Anglo-Jamaican World” as a secondary source interrogating the diaries. Burnard’s research of the diaries offer thrilling example of a secondary resource as the analysis not only featured Thistlewood but the insight it gave of a well established slave society with its expectations and prejudices.
To effectively use primary sources, a researcher has to have a good understanding or background knowledge of the period, individual or event being researched.