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Primary Sources: Home

What are they and how do you find them?

Welcome!

Find Primary SourcesPlaces to search for primary resources, and tips for searching.

Scientific Primary Sources: What scientific primary sources are, and where to find them.

Primary Source Collections: Links to online collections of digital primary source material.

Oral History: Information on using a person as a primary source, and conducting oral histories.

Social Media: Social Media can be a great primary source. This page mentions things to think about when considering social media as a source, and examples of how you can use social media as a source.

Related Guides

What are Primary Sources?

Primary sources are materials that provide first-hand accounts or information on a topic or event. They were created by someone who was present during an experience or time period of an occurrence and offer an inside view of a particular event.

A primary source reflects a time period or event, either extraordinary or every day, as it occurred. So, a primary source could have been recorded an hour ago in a research lab or in the year 1762. Primary sources also include reflections on or recollections of an event by a participant after the event has happened. Primary sources can be writings, media, images, documented experiments, or unfolding news events. They can also be oral statements, presentations, data, physical items, and performances.

Types of primary resources:

File:Letter from Birmingham City Jail cover.jpg

  • Diaries and personal journals
  • Letters, e-mails and other correspondence
  • Social media writings (blogs, tweets, etc.)
  • Autobiographies and memoirs
  • Newspapers, magazines, and journals articles, as well as books, published at the time of an event
  • Sound and video recordings from a time period or event, including speeches (often called addresses) and interviews
  • Transcripts
  • Original fiction, including novels, plays, poetry, etc
  • Films, and other musical and artistic performances
  • Photographs and graphic images, including scrapbooks and photo albums
  • Data, from original research studies, public opinion polls, and government sources.  
  • Maps
  • Government publications
  • Records and documents of government meetings, legal proceedings, business meeting minutes, and conference proceedings
  • Advertisements, pamphlets, and brochures
  • Artifacts and printed ephemera
  • Oral history
  • Ephemera are cultural objects giving a time-capsule snapshot of a moment in history, and include such items as clothing, costumes, furniture, toys, ticket stubs, old calendars, playbills, and matchbooks.
  • Anything you compile or gather yourself, including the results of surveys, questionnaires, interviews, observations, ethnographic research, polling, etc.

Video: Primary vs. Secondary Sources

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