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Libraries and Archives Orientation

Primary Sources

According to the Society of American Archivists, 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." (Check out Primary Sources on the Web: Finding, Evaluating, Using)

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 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.
  • 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.

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.

Contact the Archives