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Primary Sources

Primary Sources

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 definition of a primary sourse can vary by discipline and context. Secondary and tertiary sources can be sometimes be considered primary sources if, for example, you were studying encyclopedias. If in doubt Ask Us or contact your Subject Librarian

Primary Sources - Best Bet Databases

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. 

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
Secondary sources Scholarly sources are research based and analyze a topic. The authors have no first hand knowledge. They use primary sources and other secondary sources to make their argument. Also known as scholarly or Peer-Reviewed Sources
Tertiary sources Tertiary sources are Background Reference Resources such as encyclopedias, handbooks, manuals or guides


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