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Primary Sources: Home

This guide provides information on how to locate Primary Sources

What is a primary source?

Primary sources were either created during the time period being studied or were created at a later date by a participant in the events being studied (as in the case of memoirs).  A primary source is either first-hand testimony or direct evidence about a topic under investigation.

They reflect the individual viewpoint of a participant or observer.  Primary sources enable the researcher to get as close as possible to what actually happened during an historical event or time period

What is a secondary source?

A secondary source is a work that interprets or analyzes an historical event or phenomenon.  It is generally at least one step removed from the event and is often based on primary sources. 

Examples include:  scholarly or popular books and articles, reference books, and textbooks.

Examples of Primary Sources

  • Audio recordings (e.g. radio programs)
  • Diaries
  • Internet communications on email, listservs
  • Interviews (e.g., oral histories, telephone, e-mail)
  • Letters
  • Newspaper articles written at the time
  • Original Documents (i.e. birth certificate, will, marriage license, trial transcipts)
  • Speeches
  • Photographs
  • Records of organizations, government agencies (e.g., annual report, treaty, constitution, government document)
  • Artifacts
  • Works of art such as paintings/sculptures
  • Journals
  • Autobiographies
  • Memoirs
  • Maps from the place or time
  • Census records
  • Documentary film (raw footage)


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