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AMS 301 - Introduction to American Studies - Pagan: Primary Sources

What Are Primary Sources?

Primary Sources:
The definition of primary sources depends on the academic discipline and the context in which it is used. In the history, "Primary resources provide firsthand evidence of historical events. They are generally unpublished materials such as:
  • manuscripts,
  • photographs,
  • maps,
  • artifacts,
  • audio and video recordings,
  • oral histories,
  • postcards,
  • and posters.

In some instances, published materials can also be viewed as primary materials for the period in which they were written."

In other disciplines within the Humanities and social Sciences, primary resources may consist of original research gathered by means of a survey or questionnaire, interviews, focus groups, observation, longitudinal study or analysis.

Credit: UCLA Institute on Primary Sources

Historians use primary sources as evidence. Additional examples of primary sources are diaries, personal journals, government records, court records, property records, military reports, and military rosters.

Secondary Sources:
In contrast, a secondary source is the typical history book which may discuss or analyze a person's life or work, an event or another historical topic. Secondary sources are accounts or interpretations of events by a person who doesn't have firsthand knowledge of the event. A good secondary source uses primary sources as evidence.


Using Primary Sources on the Web   This guide provides an overview of what primary sources are with examples. Information about finding, using, evaluating and citing them is also included. Site developed by the American Library Association.  

Using and Evaluating Primary Sources


These websites provide guidance on how to identify, use and evaluate primary sources.

Other Library Guides

The Family History is a guide to a variety of print and online resources useful to the study of family history and genealogy.

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