Skip to main content

History: Primary Sources

Magazines as Primary Sources

Government Publications as Primary Sources

Public records of governments are primary sources. 

Need help locating documents? Please feel free to ask a librarian.

Archives & Historical Societies

Archives preserve the documents and records of an organization and may contain unique or rare items. In general, they do not lend and have specific policies for using their facilities, making copies, etc.

Defining a Primary Source

"A primary source is a document, image or artifact ... created contemporaneously with the event under discussion." (Williams, Historian's Toolbox, 2nd ed., p. 56)

Primary sources are evidence from participants in or eyewitnesses to an event.

Examples:

  • Diaries, letters, speeches, memoirs/autobiographies, oral interviews, newspaper & magazine articles...
  • Images: photographs, sound & video recordings, maps...
  • Artifacts: coins, receipts, schedules, tombstones, furniture, jewelry, DNA evidence...
  • Public records: birth, death, probate, census records; court cases, official government documents...
  • Creative works:  paintings, movies, statues...

Formats:

  • Original manuscripts or records
  • Authoritative transcriptions in printed volumes or digital form
  • Reproductions--digital, microfilm, facsimile...