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Primary Sources

What are Primary Sources?

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Definition

Primary sources are materials in a variety of formats, created at the time under study, that serve as original evidence documenting a time period, event, people, idea, or work. 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 digital photographs). 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