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Primary Sources: Home

Definition

Primary sources are:

"...the raw materials of history — original documents and objects which were created at the time under study. They are different from secondary sources, accounts or interpretations of events created by someone without firsthand experience" ("Using Primary Sources", Library of Congress)

Why do we use primary sources?

"Examining primary sources gives students a powerful sense of history and the complexity of the past. Helping students analyze primary sources can also guide them toward higher-order thinking and better critical thinking and analysis skills" ("Using Primary Sources", Library of Congress)

Examples: Primary Sources

Sources that derive from the time period of study, including:

  • Written records, e.g. correspondence (letters, email), journals/diaries, autobiographies, personal narratives, blogs and social media
  • Verbal records, e.g. speeches, interviews/oral histories, audio and video recordings 
  • Visual records, e.g. photographs, video recordings 
  • Newspapers (news reported by reporters who witnessed the event and/or quoting or interviewing those who experienced an event firsthand)
  • Historical documents, e.g. laws and other legal documents, constitutions, charters, government documents and official records, maps and atlases
  • Original research (can be published in scholarly journals), including experiments, clinical trials
  • Creative works, e.g. literature, drama, music, art, poetry
  • Artifacts, e.g. clothing, furniture, pottery, coins
  • Datasets and statistics 

Examples: Secondary Sources

Sources that refer to primary sources. They typically interpret and analyze primary sources, including:

  • Books that analyze a topic
  • Textbooks
  • Review of books, art, movies, plays
  • Encyclopedias
  • Biographies
  • Bibliographies
  • Commentaries and criticisms
  • Scholarly journal articles that aren't reporting original research (articles that interpret another researcher's original research)
  • New or newspaper articles that interpret an event or topic
  • Analysis or interpretation of data

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