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Primary Source Research

What Is a Primary Source?

primary source is first-person account of an event, object, or person. It can refer to original documents or physical objects and can include, but is not limited to manuscripts, diaries, letters, newspapers, photographs, artwork, manuscript material, and A/V materials.  

Secondary sources are interpretations, analyzes, or restatements of events or materials in order to explain primary sources. Secondary source materials include articles, most books or specific topics, and documentaries. 

Archives are repositories for primary sources, although they sometimes preserve secondary sources as reference material for researchers. According to the Society of American Archivists, archives are collections of records, kept because they have continuing value to the creator and to other potential users (1). Archives used to interpret and understand history. Examples of materials found in archives can include business and personal correspondence, diaries and journals, legal and financial documents,  photographs, maps, architectural drawings, ephemera, oral histories, computer tapes, and video and audio cassettes.

1. Society of American Archivists Dictionary of Archives Terminology, 2005-2020

Examples of Primary and Secondary Sources

 Primary source examples: 

  • Works of art
  • Manuscripts
  • Photographs                                 
  • A/V Recordings
  • Diaries
  • Interviews and oral histories
  • Correspondence 
  • Newspapers
  • Datasets

Secondary source examples

  • Books

  • Reviews

  • Critiques

  • Articles

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