Browse Primary Sources
Primary sources from world and global history, including images, objects, texts, and digitally-born materials – annotations by scholars contextualize sources.
Shiva as the Lord of Dance

Shiva as the Lord of Dance

This manifestation of the Hindu god Shiva depicts the deity holding a small drum, which symbolizes the audible space that fills the universe, the sound of creative energy. Here, rhythm, drum, and music are manifestations of fundamental Hindu beliefs. At concerts of Indian music, audiences listen to drummers raptly and follow their complex rhythms in cycles.

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Huun-Huur-Tu Throat Singers

Huun-Huur-Tu Throat Singers

Huun-Huur-Tu is a musical group from Tuva, which is situated along the Mongolia-Russia border, that is known for their traditional throat singing. Throat singing is when performers sing both a note and its overtones simultaneously, resulting in a rich and complex timbre, or the sound quality and texture of instruments and voices performing the music.

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Wayang Kulit Performance

Javanese Shadow Puppets

Music and dramatized storytelling are the tools of memory in places like the Indonesian island of Java. Here, a traditional Wayang, or Javanese, performance depicts Hindu epics or popular cultural legends through the use of leather puppets whose shadow is cast upon a thin fabric. Traditionally, the performance is backed by a Gamelan orchestra and usually lasts all night.

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Griots in West Africa

The Griots of West Africa

Music has served as a language of memory in many cultures around the world. In West Africa, a Griot, or Jali, is part of a special, hereditary caste of individuals charged with knowing and retelling the stories and histories of the local people.

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Richard Wagner's "The Ride of the Valkyries"

Wagner's Ride of the Valkyrie

Although it is important to take into account an artist's intentions and hopes for new music, it is equally important to realize that music is often appropriated - meaning that it is used by others in ways that the artist did not intend. Take for example Richard Wagner's famous musical drama The Valkyrie.

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Silent Movie Sheet Music

Silent Film Sheet Music

Music permeates cultures around the world. From movies, sporting events, funerals, weddings, and religious services, it is hard to imagine life without music in the background. Take, for example, this sheet music from the early twentieth century.

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Graphic of a tree crosscut showing rings

Tree Rings as Climate Archive

World historians who study environmental history sometimes sometimes seek out atypical sources to conduct their research.

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Coral image shows a series of wavy striped lines

X-ray of a cross-section of a coral core

World historians who study environmental history sometimes sometimes seek out atypical sources to conduct their research.

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Mesoamerican Pictogram

Between 1541 and 1542 Antonio de Mendoza, viceroy of New Spain, commissioned a Mesoamerican Codex containing text and Aztec pictograms. This image is one example.

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Horace, “Cleopatra Ode”

Given Horace’s position in Emperor Augustus’ court, it is not surprising that his description of Cleopatra is wholly negative. This text relies on “sourcing” and an understanding of the author’s bias and motivation for a proper reading. He describes Cleopatra as a “deadly monster” although he does, at least, admit to her bravery in submitting to the venom of the serpent.

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