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Primary Sources

What is a Primary Source?

Primary sources are original sources, in which witnesses or first recorders describe a time, person or event. They are the subjective interpretation of a witness to an event and serve as the materials historians use to analyze the past. Primary sources can either be the original document or published at a later date in electronic, microfilm and printed collections.
Some types of primary sources include:
  • published materials (books, magazine and newspaper articles) written at the particular time
  • handwritten documents, such as diaries and journals
  • speeches, interviews, letters
  • memoirs and autobiographies
  • manuscripts
  • maps
  • laws and court cases
  • records of government agencies
  • records of organizations
  • public opinion polls
  • fiction from a particular time and place
  • photographs, audio recordings, movies and videos
  • art, including paintings, prints and other media
  • artifacts, such as furniture, clothing, tools, clothing, jewelry, pottery, etc.
  • religious and philosophical texts