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What is a Primary Source: What is a Primary Source?

What is a primary Source?

What is a primary source?

  • Primary sources provide first-hand testimony or direct evidence
    created by participants or observers of a historical event or time period.
  • Often, these materials are created at the time when the events or conditions occurred.
    However, primary sources can also include autobiographies, memoirs and oral histories that are written or recorded later.
  • Primary sources are characterized by their content, not their format.  Therefore, primary sources can be found:
    -  in their original form (the actual paper copy of the Declaration of Independence)
    in published books (the Declaration of Independence reprinted in a book)
    -  in some type of digital form (the Declaration of Independence on a website)

Where can I find them?

The following types of materials are generally considered primary sources:

  • Diaries or journals
  • Letters or other manuscripts
  • Speeches, interviews and oral histories
  • Memoirs and autobiographies
  • Photographs
  • Sound recordings
  • Video or motion picture recordings
  • Published materials from that time period (books, magazine and/or newspaper articles)
  • Government documents (census records, laws, court decisions)
  • Public opinion polls
  • Political cartoons
  • Original documents produced in association with the event (pamphlets, menus...etc.)
  • Objects and artifacts (bumper stickers, buttons from political elections...etc.)

What do they look like?

images of primary sources

What is a Primary Source

Databases with Primary Sources

These are not the only databases that contain primary sources.  Check with a librarian for more help.

Common Websources

Here are some common primary sources.  For more resources please see our Research Guides for HIST.

HIST 17A Primary Sources
HIST 17B Primary Sources