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Primary Sources

Primary Sources (Arts)

Historical primary sources are artifacts in a variety of forms -- print, visual, oral, media, physical objects -- that provide first-hand knowledge and evidence of something. They bring you directly to the time and place being studied but can only tell one part of the story. Scholarly consideration involves putting the source into its historical context and connecting it to other primary and secondary sources. 

The way you are using a source for study can define whether it is a primary source or not. If in doubt Ask Us or contact your Subject Librarian

Historical Primary Sources - Best Bet Databases

Some Examples:

When Studying a Culture or Time Period:

  • Popular magazines and newspapers 
  • Photographs, advertisements, cartoons, posters, postcards, playbills
  • Works of art, literature, music scores, folk music
  • Films, television programs, audio
  • Material culture: clothing, tools, furniture, machines

The definition of a primary source varies by discipline and context, for example:  

  • In literature and philosophy your main primary source is the text you are analysing
  • In music primary sources are the scores, repertoire and performances along with the historic sources. 
  • In many fields such as the sciences and psychology, primary sources are the published results of research studies, experiments, clinical trials, as well as patents, technical reports and conference proceedings. 

If in doubt Ask Us or contact your Subject Librarian.

Please also refer to these Subject Guides and Course Guides.

Before searching for primary sources it can be helpful to use Background Reference Resources to identify specific events or people pertaining to your topic, then you can investigate these in the Primary Source Databases. 

Reference sources can also be a shortcut to finding important primary and secondary sources on your topic. 

Secondary sources Generally speaking, secondary sources tend to be works that use primary sources and other secondary sources to evaluate topics or phenomena. Also known as scholarly or Peer-Reviewed Sources
Tertiary sources Tertiary sources are Background Reference Resources such as encyclopedias, handbooks, manuals or guides


Further Reading

Frequently Used Sources

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