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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. Primary sources are characterized by their content, regardless of whether they are available in original format, in microfilm/microfiche, in digital format, or in published format.

Some types of primary sources include:

  • photographs
  • letters
  • artifacts
  • diaries
  • works of art such as paintings/sculptures/quilts
  • fiction
  • poetry
  • journals
  • autobiographies
  • music and songs
  • memoirs
  • cartoons
  • census records
  • broadsides
  • court or government records
  • immigration records
  • drawings
  • maps from the place or time
  • ships' logs
  • ledger books
  • labor records
  • recorded oral histories and people speaking for themselves
  • texts or recordings of speeches
  • architectural landmarks
  • charts/graphs
  • sound recordings
  • documentary film