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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.

Southeast view of the Basilica building

Basilica of Saint Mary

Learn about the Basilica of Saint Mary in Minneapolis, the first basilica in America and a prominent cultural and architectural presence.

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

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 trade card

Discrimination in Advertising Trade Cards

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

Path and ship leading to Duluth's aerial lift bridge while front of green sky

Duluth's Aerial Lift Bridge

Learn about Duluth's Aerial Lift Bridge and its economic impact.

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.

Lincoln and Frank Fey in Car No. 3, Northfield, Minnesota, c. 1900

Fey Brothers, Automobile Inventors

Learn about early automobile history by examining the four custom-built automobiles of Lincoln and Frank Fey.

Large, brick building with banner labeled "Red Wing Milling Co." Underneath states "Red Wing Special Flour"

Flour Milling in Minnesota

Learn about the development and significance of milling in Minnesota

Church of the Holy Communion, St. Peter, Minnesota

Format Highlight: Cabinet Cards

Learn about the history of cabinet photographs.

Florence Stork and her brother

Format Highlight: Carte de Visites

Learn about the history and significance of Carte de Visite images, an early photographic format.

Union Depot, Duluth, Minnesota

Format Highlight: Cyanotypes

Learn about the history and significance of cyanotypes, an early photographic technique.

Aerial bridge, Duluth

Format Highlight: Postcards

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

View in the dells of St. Croix River, Minnesota

Format Highlight: Stereographs

Learn about the history and significance of stereograph images, a common photographic format.

Hilma Berglund writing in her diary

Hilma Berglund and the Weavers Guild of Minnesota

Meet Hilma Berglund, the first president of the Weavers Guild of Minnesota.

Basal metabolic rate machine

History of Chiropractic in Minnesota

Learn about the history of chiropractic medicine in Minnesota.

District 43 Country School

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.

Nicollet Avenue, 1920 New

Main Streets

Learn about Minnesota's main streets, their role in a community, and how they have changed over time.

Ole Overvold with oxen and plow, Mayfield Township, Minnesota

Mechanization of Farming in Minnesota

Learn about the mechanization of farming in Minnesota and its impact on the state.

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

St. Anthony Falls

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

Ojibwe man and child dancing at the Annual White Earth Celebration and Pow Wow, 1916

Stella Stocker and the Ojibwe of Minnesota

Visit early 20th century Ojibwe communities with musician and educator Stella Stocker through her photography collection.

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.

Class pyramid, Minneapolis YMCA New

The Minneapolis YMCA

Learn about the history and impact of the YMCA in Minneapolis, founded in 1866.

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

This set outlines the development, construction, and use of whaleback boats on the Great Lakes.

Suffragist wagon

Women's Suffrage in Minnesota

Explore resources related to the women's suffrage movement in Minnesota.

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.