Q. What is a primary source?
A primary source is a first-hand account of an event, time period, or philosophical era.
A primary source may include:
- diaries, journals, speeches, letters, interviews, office memos and other papers if the author was present at the event being written about
- memoirs and autobiographies which are describing events that the author was present for
- government documents, such as census records
- reports and minutes of organizations that reflect events, conditions and ideas of the time
- books, journals and newspapers written at the time of the event in question
- photographs, audio tapes, and film that document an event
- research data documenting scientific data at the time
- artifacts of all kinds, which may include buildings (architecture), household items, cave drawings, clothing, paintings, pottery
Primary sources do not include:
- historical accounts of an event
- memoirs or autobiographies that reflect on an event that the author was not present for, unless it reflects the popular opinion of the time
- a critical analysis of a work of literature that was written much later than the actual work
- documentation of ideas or psychology of a time may be found in popular fiction, films, educational material etc produced during that time period
- a critical analysis of an historical event that was written much later
For more information about why we use primary sources, and how / where to search for them, please visit our subject guide on primary sources.