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ARS Constructed Environments

Primary Sources

A primary source is "material that contains firsthand accounts of events and that was created contemporaneous to those events or later recalled by an eyewitness." - Society of American Archivists

Students can obtain primary sources using a variety of methods:

  • Original research. Observations, experiments, surveys and interviews that you conduct can be considered primary sources. Photographs, videos, transcriptions of interviews, and other types of documentation that you gather are primary sources.
  • Archives. Please see our Introduction to Archival Research to learn more. Feel free to make an appointment or ask your instructor to make an orientation for your class to learn more about archival research. 
  • Historical newspapers. If you are researching a historical event and are seeking firsthand accounts or want to examine how it was treated in the press, use a historical newspaper.
  • Interviews. In many library databases such as ProQuest Central, you can designate "Interview" as the Document Type when searching.
  • Oral histories. You can find oral histories in archives and online (for example: Oral History Association). Contact the Archives or Ask Us for more guidance.  See The New School Archives Oral History Collections.
  • Websites, blogs, emails and social media. If you're researching how a company or government represents an issue, or people's opinions about an issue, then online content can be used as a primary source.
  • Photographs and films. Please note that even documentary photographs and films can be edited or manipulated so that they present a point of view that does not accurately represent reality.  See our Images for Designers and Art Researchers Guide for image sources.

Secondary sources are books, periodical articles, and other resources that interpret, analyze, represent, or discuss. Many resources can be considered either a primary source or a secondary source, depending on the context.

When would I use primary materials?

You would use primary materials in a research project after consulting all available secondary source materials (books, journal articles, documentaries, etc.) on a topic. The primary materials will enable you to build upon prior research and provide your own interpretation of events. Even if nothing has been written directly on your topic, background research will help you to understand the context in which events occurred or the time and place in which a person or a corporation's activities were set.

Topic: Social Media and Privacy

Primary Sources:

  • Interview with user of social media, or manager of social media company
  • Privacy policy or agreement by social media company
  • Lawsuit filed against a social media company on the basis of privacy
  • A screenshot of a social media post that exemplifies an aspect of privacy
  • Survey or poll on social media attitudes
  • Laws and government documents regarding social media and privacy

See our databases for:

Journal Indexes


Website and Digital Collections



Books for Primary Research