Researchers often use firsthand accounts of specific events, or direct investigations to understand events from the viewpoint of people living during that time period. Primary materials can be diaries, news stories from that time period, personal journals, interviews, oral histories, letters, manuscripts, and a variety of visual documents such as photogrpahs and maps. For popular reaction to events/issues, try searching the Letters to the Editor in a newspaper such as the New York Times.
The Gordon Library Archives are a great resource for primary sources. One archival collection you might interested in is the Elwood Haynes Collection. Elwood Haynes graduated from WPI in 1881. Haynes studied metal alloys at WPI and went on to design one of the earliest automobiles in the United States.
To learn more about the Archives' collections or to schedule a visit to the Archives, please call 508-831-6112 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.