This is the "Introduction" page of the "Primary Sources" guide.
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Last Updated: Feb 10, 2017 URL: Print Guide RSS Updates

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Where Can I Find Primary Source Material?

Explore the other tabs in this guide for online collections of primary sources.  Whether in digital or original format, primary sources are typically found in these types of institutions or locations:

  • Libraries
  • Museums & Archives
  • Historical Societies
  • Town or City Hall/Town Clerk
  • State and Federal Government Agencies
  • Family Collections
Please note that some of these catagories overlap; for instance, the U.S. federal government maintains a national archive as well as a national library (The Library of Congress) and both are important respositories of primary source documents.  

What Are Primary Sources?

Primary sources are original documents, objects, and other materials that provide firsthand evidence about a historical period.  They are generally created at the time under study, although they may be recorded later in the form of memoirs or oral histories. 

Secondary sources are materials created about a person or event--accounts or interpretations by someone who did not have direct or firsthand experience of the events or time period.  Secondary sources often rely on primary sources to tell the full story.  

For example: A presidential speech is a primary source.  Newspaper accounts of the speech, describing what the president said or analyzing his speech, are secondary sources.

Some examples of primary sources include:

  • Diaries
  • Letters, Manuscripts, Sketchbooks
  • Speeches
  • Paintings or other Works of Art
  • Audio & Video Recordings
  • Census Records
  • Government-issued Documents (birth certificates, marriage licenses, military records, etc)
  • Official War Records
  • Legislation
  • Transcripts of Hearings & Testimony
  • Advertisements
  • Photographs, Posters, Images
  • Literature and Music
  • Charters, Constitutions, Human Rights Declarations
  • Statistics and Poll Results
  • Interviews, Oral Histories
  • Tools, Coins, Flags, Pottery, Clothing, Furniture and other Cultural Objects
  • Maps 
  • Cartoons, Literary Satire, Newspaper Editorials

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