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Primary Source Sets

The Minnesota Digital Library (MDL) Primary Source Sets are designed to help students develop critical thinking skills by exploring a variety of topics related to Minnesota’s history and culture. Using both primary and secondary sources, these sets bring together resources in new ways to help students better understand historic events in their context.

Drawing materials from libraries, archives, and museums across Minnesota, these sets use letters, photographs, advertisements, oral histories, postcards, newsletters, speeches, and more. Each set includes a topic overview, ten to twenty primary sources from the MDL collection, links to related resources, and a section called “Think Like a Historian” which offers discussion questions and classroom activities. We invite educators and researchers to use these primary source sets in their teaching and learning.

Civilian Conservation Corps crew working on East Bearskin Road, north of Grand Marais, Minnesota

Civilian Conservation Corps in Minnesota

The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) was a work relief program started in 1933; Minnesota's 148 camps had over 70,000 workers.

Construction of St. Anthony Falls apron, Minneapolis, Minnesota

Construction of the Apron at St. Anthony Falls, Mississippi River

Learn about the need for and development of the St. Anthony Falls Apron in Minneapolis, MN.

Palace Clothing Company, High Art Clothiers, Minneapolis, Minnesota

Discrimination in Advertising Trade Cards

Discover advertising trade cards from the late 19th and early 20th-century used by businesses throughout America.

Roller coaster and popcorn stand, Excelsior Amusement Park, Excelsior, Minnesota

Excelsior Amusement Park

This primary source set explores the history and attractions at the Excelsior Amusement Park, Excelsior, Minnesota.

Church of the Holy Communion, St. Peter, Minnesota

Format Highlights: Cabinet Cards

Learn about the history of cabinet photographs.

Aerial Bridge: U.S. Ship Canal Duluth, Minnesota

Format Highlights: Postcards

This primary source set provides a brief overview of the history of postcards.

Basal metabolic rate machine in use, Northwestern Health Sciences University, Bloomington, Minnesota

History of Chiropractic in Minnesota

Learn about the history chiropractic in Minnesota.

District 43 Country School, 1901 class photograph, Ann Township, Cottonwood County, Minnesota

Laura Ingalls Wilder's On the Banks of Plum Creek

Explore some of the themes and ideas laid out in Laura Ingalls Wilder's autobiographical novel.

Loggers in winter, Polk County, Minnesota

Lumber Industry in Minnesota

Learn how the lumber industry used natural resources, labor, technology, and transportation to harvest Minnesota's pine forests.

Kugler's Drugstore, Duluth, Minnesota

Made in Minnesota: Patent Medicine on the Prairie

This primary source set provides a brief overview of patent medicine with some Minnesota-related resources.

Ole Overvold with oxen and plow, Mayfield Township, Minnesota

Mechanization of Farming in Minnesota

Learn about the history mechanization of farming in Minnesota.

Tramming ore in Pioneer 'A' underground mine, Ely, Minnesota

Mining on the Iron Range

Learn about Minnesota's Iron Range, the immigrants who settled there and how iron mining has helped shape Minnesota.

The Organizer (Minneapolis, Minnesota), Volume 1, Number 5

Minneapolis Teamsters Strike of 1934

One of the most violent labor disputes in state history took place at the height of the Depression.

William Crooks locomotive

Minnesota's Three Major Railroads

Learn how three of Minnesota's major railroads formed and how they contributed to the development of Minnesota.

Neighborhoods of Duluth: Morgan Park, view of neighborhood, Duluth, Minnesota

Morgan Park: U. S. Steel's Company Town in Duluth, Minnesota

Learn about Morgan Park, a neighborhood in Duluth, constructed by U.S. Steel as a planned community and company town.

St. Clair Theater, St. Paul, Minnesota

Motion picture theaters in Minnesota

Motion picture theaters have played a role in the architectural, cultural, social, and entertainment history of Minnesota.

Flood Damage in 1951 in North Mankato, Minnesota

Natural Disasters in Minnesota

Learn how people survived and coped with some of Minnesota’s historic natural disasters such as storms, floods and wildfires.

Scriver Building, Northfield, Minnesota

Northfield Bank Raid of 1876

Learn about the infamous James-Younger Gang's attempt to rob the First National Bank of Northfield, Minnesota in 1876.

Mayo Clinic in 1914, Rochester, Minnesota

Origins of the Mayo Clinic

Learn how the Mayo Clinic formed following a devastating tornado in the Rochester area in 1883.

Valley of the St. Peters, Minnesota

Seth Eastman: Depictions of Native American Life

Seth Eastman is known primarily for his depictions of daily life among the Dakota and Ojibwa tribes.

Sinclair Lewis at the door to his home in Duluth, 1944

Sinclair Lewis in Duluth

Read letters written by Sinclair Lewis about his house, work, and experiences while living in Duluth in the 1940s.

Main Street, Starbuck, Minnesota

Sinclair Lewis's Main Street

Explore some of the themes and ideas laid out in Sinclair Lewis's masterpiece of American literature.

St. Anthony Falls milling district with trestle bridge and Stone Arch Bridge, Minneapolis, Minnesota

St. Anthony Falls

St. Anthony Falls, the only true waterfall on the Mississippi River, is responsible for powering mills and birthing a city.

Police officers and illegal liquor, Northfield, Minnesota

Temperance to Prohibition

Learn how the national temperance movement evolved resulting in prohibition of liquor and how it played out in Minnesota.

Line outside of bookmobile visiting Stanchfield, East Central Regional Library System, Stanchfield, Minnesota

Traveling Library Services in Minnesota

Minnesota's earliest mobile library services were traveling libraries and bookmobile services.

Three streetcars passing a military parade on Hennepin Avenue at 6th Street, Minneapolis, Minnesota

Twin Cities Streetcars - The Rise and Fall

Learn about the rise and fall of streetcars in the Twin Cities - the first public transit system in the area.

Whaleback in shipyard, Duluth, Minnesota

Whaleback Boats on the Great Lakes

Outlines the development, construction, and use of whaleback boats on the Great Lakes.

World War I home front, Duluth, Minnesota

World War I on the Minnesota Home Front

World War I had a profound impact of the lives of Minnesotans. Explore these resources to learn about the Minnesota home front.