What are Primary Sources?
Primary sources are original records that document evidence or supply first-hand testimony of a particular time period, event, or subject. This record or documentation is usually created close to the time of the occurrence by a participant or observer. If created at a later date, the documentation would take on the form of an autobiography, oral history, or memoir.
Primary source accounts can be a person’s recollection or description of a particular event or time, there may be misunderstandings or misinterpretations. When looking for primary sources, it is helpful to obtain more than one account of a particular event in order to determine the reliability of the information.
The following are generally considered primary sources:
Diaries, interviews, letters, manuscripts, memos, speeches
autobiographies, memoirs, oral histories
Original Recordings of an Event, Time Period, or Place
Books, journal, magazine and newspaper articles, advertisements, photography, audio and video recordings, pamphlets, broadsides/posters, maps
Organization or Government Agency Records
Minutes of meetings, agendas, correspondence
Research Data and Reports
Public opinion polls, census records, laws, experiments, studies, statistical data
Works of art, literature, poetry, architecture, music
Physical objects, clothing, tools, furniture
What are Secondary Sources?
Secondary source materials are produced by analyzing and interpreting a particular time period, event or subject. The authors of this interpretation are not first-hand participants or observers of the event. Primary sources are often used to provide the evidence for secondary source materials.
Examples of secondary sources are biographies, journal articles, and documentaries written some time after the event being studied. Historical textbooks, for example, are often compiled by analyzing and interpreting primary sources.
Other Interpretations of Primary Sources
How to Distinguish Between Primary and Secondary Sources - University of California, Santa Cruz