ANSO 402: Senior Seminar

What are primary sources?

Primary sources are first-hand accounts by participants of a particular event or materials produced at the same historical time period. 

Some examples of primary sources include:

  • Memoirs, speeches, writings, correspondence
  • Papers of a political party, agency, or association
  • Official documents such as congressional hearings and reports
  • Contemporary magazine and newspaper articles
  • Contemporary art, films, literature and music
  • Contemporary artifacts, such as buildings and monuments

Finding Primary Sources

When looking for primary sources, you need to consider:

  • Who would create the documents? 
    • Who can be individuals or groups, such as local, regional, or international organizations, associations, and governmental agencies.
    • When reading secondary and primary sources, make a list of the names you encounter. Search these names as authors in library databases.
  • How would the documents be preserved and accessed?
    • Formally published/produced, such as books, newspaper and magazine articles, films, music, court cases, etc.
    • Informally published/produced, such as press releases, reports, policy statements, etc.
    • Personal or internal documents, such as diaries, letters, research interviews, internal memos, etc 
      • May no longer exist
      • May not be publicly available (could be in personal files only)
      • May have been deposited with a library archive, museum, historical site, or corporate/organization archive
        • Search Archive Finder or Google to determine where a person's/organizations papers are housed
        • Look for finding aids and digitized documents at the institution that holds the papers.
      • May have been collected and published