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Find Primary Sources: Start Here

What are primary sources?

  • A primary source is an original object or document – the raw, source material or first-hand information – that was created during the time being studied.
  • This type of evidence varies by discipline and can include historical and legal documents, eyewitness accounts, results of an experiment, statistical data, pieces of creative writing, and art objects, to name a few. They are usually factual, rather than interpretive or critical.
  • Some examples of the difference between a primary source and a secondary source include:
    • The Diary of a Young Girl (primary) vs. ``The American History of Anne Frank`s diary`` (secondary)
    • ``Sir Gawain and the Green Knight`` (primary) vs. ``Twentieth century interpretations of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight: a collection of critical essays`` (secondary)
    • A decorative amphora (primary) vs. a photograph of this ancient Greek vase (secondary)

What keywords should I use to find primary sources?

  • Archives
  • Artifacts or Physical Objects
  • Audio Recordings
  • Autobiographies and memoirs
  • Books (some)
  • Census Records
  • Correspondences 
  • Diaries 
  • Films or Video Recordings
  • Government Documents
  • Interviews 
  • Journal Entries
  • Letters
  • Manuscripts
  • Newspapers
  • Notebooks
  • Oral Histories
  • Papers
  • Personal narratives
  • Photographs
  • Printed Ephemera
  • Raw Research Data
  • Records
  • Scrapbooks
  • Speeches

Top Picks: Primary Sources

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How do I analyze primary sources?

It is important to always examine primary sources for their rhetorical situation. Some questions you could ask when analyzing primary sources include:

  • What is the context?
  • What is the purpose?
  • Who is the intended audience?
  • What is the tone?
  • What is the method of delivery?
  • What is the genre or format?
  • How effective is the message?