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Primary Sources - Examples and Definitions: Definition


Any object, item, writing, recording, publication, hand writing, art, file, photograph, and documents that are original to the event, time period, or person in question.

Primary Sources - Yale

Yale University has a very well-designed page describing primary sources. While all of the Suggested tools for... lead to Yale owned material, the examples/definitions for each type of material are excellent.

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What is a Primary Source

A primary source is a document or physical object which was written or created during the time under study. These sources were present during an experience or time period and offer an inside view of a particular event. Some types of primary sources include:

  • ORIGINAL DOCUMENTS (excerpts or translations acceptable): Diaries, speeches, manuscripts, letters, interviews, news film footage, autobiographies, official records 
  • CREATIVE WORKS: Poetry, drama, novels, music, art 
  • RELICS OR ARTIFACTS: Pottery, furniture, clothing, buildings

Examples of primary sources include:

  • Diary of Anne Frank - Experiences of a Jewish family during WWII 
  • The Constitution of Canada - Canadian History 
  • A journal article reporting NEW research or findings 
  • Weavings and pottery - Native American history 
  • Plato's Republic  

What is a secondary source?
A secondary source interprets and analyzes primary sources. These sources are one or more steps removed from the event. Secondary sources may have pictures, quotes or graphics of primary sources in them. Some types of secondary sources include:

  • PUBLICATIONS: Textbooks, magazine articles, histories, criticisms, commentaries,encyclopedias 

Examples of secondary sources include:

  • A journal/magazine article which interprets or reviews previous findings 
  • A history textbook 
  • A book about the effects of WWI 

In library and museum catalogues, searching by the keywords below can often find primary sources.

  • charters
  • correspondence
  • diaries
  • interviews
  • manuscripts
  • pamphlets
  • personal narratives
  • speeches
  • letters
  • documents