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Primary Sources

A guide to understanding and searching for primary sources

NEW Database

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Primary sources

Primary sources are original materials produced at the time an event occurred or soon after, or at a later time by someone who was involved in, or who observed, the actual event.

These sources may be one-of-a-kind, and they present new information or report on discoveries or experiments. Primary sources become the "raw materials" for subsequent analysis, interpretation, or criticism.


Types of Primary Sources

  • Letters, manuscripts, speeches, interviews, oral histories

  • Diaries, journals, autobiographies or memoirs

  • Books, articles or newspaper reports written at the time of an event

  • Government records (census data, birth or death records, laws, parliamentary debates, treaties)

  • Legal documents (wills, judgements, trial transcripts)

  • Photographs, postcards, maps, recordings

  • Research data (results of experiments or clinical trials, survey responses, ethnography field notes)

  • Artifacts (tools, toys, household items, clothing, jewelry)

  • Patents, architectural plans, technical drawings

  • Literature, art, and other creative works (novels, poems, plays, films, music, performances, sculpture, paintings)

  • Internet communications (blogs, tweets, emails)