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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 is a Primary Source

Primary Source Tutorial

Here is a tutorial by Clark College in Washington State.  This will help you check your knowledge of primary sources.

Databases with Primary Sources

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

What do they look like?

images of primary sources

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