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Primary Sources

Learn about primary sources and discover a wealth of sources in UH Special Collections and around the world.

What are Primary Sources?

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Primary sources are materials that serve as original evidence documenting a time period, event, people, idea, or work. Primary sources are not always historical sources. They are created at the time under study, so their date of creation may range from centuries ago to the present day.

Primary sources can be printed materials (such as books and ephemera), manuscript/archival materials (such as diaries or ledgers), audio/visual materials (such as recordings or films), artifacts (such as clothes or personal belongings), or born-digital materials (such as emails or social media posts). Primary sources can be found in analog, digitized, and born-digital forms.

The concept of what makes a source “primary” relies on the research question at hand. (A book from 1910 about women's suffrage might be a secondary source for a paper about suffrage, but a primary source for a paper about attitudes towards suffrage in the early 20th century). 

The concept of a primary source also varies based on the discipline. This research guide focuses on primary sources for the humanities.

Source: Guidelines for Primary Source Literacy