Smithsonian

Artifact & Document Analysis

Artifacts and objects give history its tangible form. Our picture of the past would remain disappointingly vague in the absence of material evidence. How, for example, would we envision the perilous transatlantic flight of Charles Lindbergh in 1927 if we could not see The Spirit of St. Louis? The millions of visitors who have examined this airplane in the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum have an intimate sense of how primitive that aircraft was by modern standards.

Or consider how little sense we would make of Francis Scott Key's verses about a battle in 1812 were it not for the Star Spangled Banner itself, now housed in the National Museum of American History. This huge banner inspired the national anthem of the United States and invites awe due to its monumental scale.

In both of these instances, artifacts actually help us understand history. Objects are as important and useful as are letters and other documents; all of these are the primary sources of history.