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Primary Sources

What are primary sources and where to find them.

Primary Sources

Primary sources are the raw materials of history — original documents and objects that were created at the time under study. 


The term "primary sources" covers a wide array of resources that serve as a foundational element of many types of research. The key element that distinguishes a "primary source" from others is its originality, as expressed in the quote above.

Types of primary sources include:

  • Advertising
  • Art and literature
  • Autobiographies
  • Case law, legislation, regulations, constitutions
  • Correspondence/letters
  • Cultural artifacts
  • Government documents
  • Journals and diaries
  • Maps
  • Newspaper or magazine articles
  • Oral histories and interviews
  • Organizational records
  • Original research
  • Public records

Because they offer a first-hand account of what happened, primary documents offer insight into the past and how events influenced people of the time.